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Public hearings on waste disposal `cannot be an option'

By Our Staff Reporter
The Hindu. October 15, 2004

CHENNAI, OCT. 14, While welcoming the report of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on hazardous waste management in Tamil Nadu, environmental groups have reacted sharply to its recommendation to do away with public hearings on construction of waste disposal facilities within industrial estates.

The recommendation, if adopted, will put the clock back on the struggle for environmental protection .It is the right of the public to participate in governance issues, which affect their lives, the groups say.

The SCMC recommended that the option of constructing a treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) for hazardous wastes at Melakottaiyur in Kancheepuram district be put on hold and that common landfills be provided within the confines of industrial areas and industrial estates. For secured landfills within industrial estates, it might not be necessary to conduct public hearings as the industrial estate was already an approved notified site.

The SCMC said hazardous wastes destined for Melakottaiyur might be routed, for the time being, to possible common disposal sites within the Gummidipoondi industrial estate or in its vicinity.

Calling the suggestions a serious blow to public participation, the Melakottaiyur Environment Protection Committee, a village group formed specifically to fight against the proposed TSDF in the locality, said the SCMC, even while saving the villagers from the toxic project, condemned the residents at and around existing industrial estates to contamination.

It recommended that the Government mandate toxic use reduction and time-bound waste reduction programmes for hazardous industries.

In a statement, Arpudhanesam of the Melakottaiyur committee said it would continue to press for a mandate for setting up landfills away from waterbodies and residential neighbourhoods.

Bharath Jayaraj of the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group said doing away with hearings would amount to curtailing the rights of public participation on issues that affected people's lives.

The people turning up in large numbers at hearings was a pointer to their poor confidence in government mechanism.

A blanket rule for all industrial estates might not be reasonable as several estates, including at Cuddalore, Tuticorin and Ennore, had communities living around them.

The suitability of a site should be decided only after going through the rigours of the process, he added.

The Government had earmarked nearly 70 hectares of land for putting up the facility through the Small Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu. Melakottaiyur was one of the seven sites identified by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for establishing a TSDF.

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