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Chemplast project goes haywire

G JAGANNATH
News Today
Chennai, Dec 9, 2005

Environmental and community groups in Cuddalore have condemned the clearance for a "controversial" proposal to set up a Chemplast Sanmar's PVC factory in SIPCOT Cuddalore by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The residents have said they will fight the proposal in the courts and in public fora. PVC is a poisonous plastic whose production, use and disposal are associated with the release of a variety of life-threatening poisons including dioxins and furans.

"The company has a poor track record of environmental compliance and its facility at Mettur was found guilty of discharging toxic effluents into the Cauvery river by the Indian People's Tribunal chaired by Justice (Retd) Akbar B Kadri of the Madras High Court in July 2005, for degrading several thousand acres of farmland, contaminating groundwater and affecting the health of villagers and workers", Shweta Narayan of SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitoring (SACEM) told News Today.

With this poor track record, the project clearance is illegal for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the decision was taken based on an outdated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared using 1999 data. "The EIA is fundamentally flawed, and the project has several new components whose environmental impacts have neither been assessed nor understood. A desalination plant and a captive power plant have been added to the project. Both have significant environmental impacts, but neither have been assessed for their impact, in violation of the EIA Notification, 1994", she said. Additionally, she noted, "the factory will use explosive and carcinogenic Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) as raw material and will be located adjacent to a rocket fuel manufacturing facility. A mishap in one factory could snowball into a major disaster owing to the proximity of the two factories storing large quantities of explosive chemicals to residential areas."

The proposal to set up the PVC plant was initially mooted in 2002. But the company relocated its proposal to Krishnapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, after Cuddalore residents expressed their opposition to the factory at a government-held public hearing and forced one of the project financiers, International Finance Corporation, to abandon the project. After failing to secure permission from the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, the the project proposal was revived in Tamilnadu, and the government granted it a 'No Objection Certificate' without consulting the public despite the project's history of rejections by communities.

Pollution-hit villagers in Cuddalore have pleaded for a ban on the setting up of polluting factories in SIPCOT owing to the over-polluted nature of the industrial estate and its location within residential areas. Even after that, the State Human Rights Commission, in its report on 1998, had ordered not to set up any new chemical and water-intensive company after accessing the industrial estate and taking into account overwhelming pollution causing serious health problem in the adjoining villages.

The Indian People's Tribunal and leaders of various political parties including local MLA Pugazhenthi have conveyed their opposition to the setting up of polluting units in SIPCOT.

Speaking to this reporter, the MLA said, "People in the adjoining villages of SIPCOT are against setting up of the PVC company as it would further contaminate the groundwater. Being their representative, I have to express their opposition in the coming Assembly session and convey our disapproval of this project to the government." If it failed to bear any fruit, he said, "he along with other consumer and non-governmental organisations would take up the issue to public and even to the court to get justice." He noted that the factory has been approved despite resolutions against such units by the Panchayat and the Panchayat Union. However, rather than clean up the region and make it safe for residents, the government has announced plans to relocate several more polluting units including dyeing and tanning units to SIPCOT Cuddalore. Efforts to contact Chemplast Sanmar officials proved futile.

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