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Villagers stop construction work at IWMA project site, express concern over groundwater, health

Jaya Menon
New Indian Express
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chennai, March 21: Hundreds of residents of Gummidipoondi and surrounding villages today squatted on the site where work was to begin on a 'land raise' for dumping 35,000 tonnes of hazardous industrial wastes. The villagers were opposing the project's location, about 500 metres from the nearest village, saying it violated the Supreme Court sanctified site guidelines and that the wastes would poison subsurface and ground water, affect agriculture and threaten public health.

About 115 companies, including Ford, Hyundai, Nokia and Chennai Petroleum, are members of the Industrial Waste Management Association (IWMA), permitted to construct the dump site at a cost of about Rs 40 crore. About 40,000 tonnes of industrial waste collected from IWMA members' factories located in three districts, including Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram, would be dumped on the site. They would pay about Rs 1,300 for dumping one tonne of waste.

With more SEZs and industrial parks coming up in the belt, more companies are likely to join in eventually.

The project, launched in 2004, has come in for strident protests from environmentalists and residents of the S R Kandigai panchayat in Gummidipoondi. This morning they entered the project site, located inside the state-owned SIPCOT industrial estate, and stopped the construction work which was to begin today. The villagers said the construction was being carried out without permission from the local government bodies and against their wishes.

T Rosepillai, panchayat president of S R Kandigai, said the villagers would bring their family members, including children, and block the site if the company and government decide to press ahead with the project. "If the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the government cannot protect us, we will protect ourselves," he said.

"Gummidipoondi has good surface water. Tankerloads of fresh water had been supplied to the Chennai Metrowater during a crisis in 2004. I am sure when the dumping of toxic wastes begin, the stench too would be unbearable. Let them take the dumping site to some forest area where there is no habitation," he said.

District Collector Ranvir Prasad pointed out that while initially the Madras High Court had granted a stay on the project based on a writ petition, it had subsequently been vacated and the plea dismissed on the grounds that the land raise had received the green signal from the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee and the TNPCB.

"While more than 85 per cent of the blocks in Tamil Nadu have been declared grey zones for groundwater where water levels have plummeted, Gummidipoondi is one of the few blocks with rich groundwater. The porous sandstone layer at the surface means any contamination from the dump yard will quickly flow to the groundwater," pointed out Shweta Narayan of the Community Environment Monitoring, spearheading the agitation.

Villagers say environment guidelines prohibit the setting up of such facilities near water bodies. But the project site was less than 100 metres from the Kuluva Cheruvu pond.

S Mani, IWMA chairman, said the 'land raise' would be "on par with the best international standards". There would be a cover of earth every day on the wastes and eventually the mound would have a green cover, he added. "While the prescribed thickness (for cover) is 1.5 mm, we have opted for 2 mm so that there is absolutely no seepage of the waste into the ground," he said, claiming it was being scientifically done to ensure no harm to the environment.

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