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Anger over landfill project boils over

by Karthik Subramanian
THE HINDU
Friday, Jan 13, 2006

Gummidipoondi villagers fear project will ruin groundwater; panchayat chief serves notice to firm

CHENNAI : The simmering protest against the government decision to set up an industrial waste landfill project at Gummidipoondi, 30 km north of Chennai, boiled over on Thursday, when more than 200 local villagers barged into the construction site and raised slogans against the project.

The villagers claimed that the local panchayat had not cleared the proposal of the private company that is setting up the landfill.

The protesters, mostly women, turned against the project promoters Tamil Nadu Waste Management Limited (TNWML), and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for clearing the project. "Don't pollute our groundwater. Move away, we don't need you," they shouted.

Construction, which began earlier this month, is being carried out by earthmovers at the site, which is surrounded by an electrified fence. The facility is being developed on a build-own-operate basis and will treat industrial effluents from nearly 400 factories in Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. The site is situated within the Export Promotion Industrial Park of SIPCOT (State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu).

P.Lalithamma, of S.R.Kandigai village, said the land was fertile before SIPCOT took it over several years ago. "Groundwater from Gummidipoondi has helped Chennai during the drought two years ago.

But now the government has cleared a project that is likely to ruin groundwater here.

The villagers said they had approached government agencies at all levels but the officials were not receptive to their complaints.

Ninety-year-old Y. Krishnama Raju, convenor of Agricultural Professionals Action Committee, Gummidipoondi, has also approached the court. In his petition, Mr.Raju has said the landfill is situated too close to water sources and was in violation of Supreme Court guidelines. "The landfill proposal was itself shifted from Melakottiyur village in Kancheepuram last year because the residents protested there. If the government conceded their requests, why are they not listening to us," he asked.

Panchayat president of S.R.Kandigai, Y.Suresh, said he had served notice to the company under the Panchayats Act to stop work immediately. "We have already passed a resolution against the landfill in our meeting. They have not taken our permission to start construction."

A group of environment activists from city-based Corporate Accountability Desk (CAD) has been helping the villagers in the crusade.

In a statement, the organisation said the Government was rushing through with the project as it was way behind the deadline to set up a landfill as mandated by the Hazardous Management Rules, 1989.

Shweta Narayan of CAD said the Gummidipoondi site was selected not on any scientific basis. "It is situated inside the export promotion park. That in itself is a major violation."

Company reaction

Senior representatives of TNWML, a subsidiary of Hyderabad-based Ramky Associates, said the construction was in accordance with the agreement signed with SIPCOT. G. Rengasamy, managing director, said they had submitted their project proposal to all government agencies, including the local panchayat. "According to a clause in their agreement with SIPCOT, we were cleared to start construction," he said.

Mr.Rengasamy, seeking to allay the fears of villagers, said all precautions would be taken to prevent pollution.

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