Villagers Confront Chemplast on Illegal Trial Runs
Mettur, 8 September, 2009 -- About 15 villagers from the vicinity of the Chemplast factory in Mettur gathered in front of the factory to ask them to cease testing of the steam lines of their new thermal power plant until proper permission is obtained from the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board. Trial runs that began on 1 September, 2009, have seriously affected villagers, as the high-pressure steam that is released during testing is accompanied by an "unbearably loud and piercing" hissing sound that can be heard for several kilometres around the factory. Villagers have reported that the company tests the steam lines about 5 times a day. During each test, the noise persists for about 3 to 5 minutes. "Children cry inconsolably. Pregnant women are fearful of miscarriages because of the vibrations. The elderly and the very young are at particular risk from the loud noise and vibrations," said G. Madeshwaran, secretary of the Gonur West Agriculturists Development Union. A complaint filed with the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board on 4 September, 2009, has elicited no response with the noise and illegal operation continuing unabated. Local villagers said even senior officials at the TNPCB are involved in perpetuating the illegal operation of Chemplast. Three of four units of Chemplast Sanmar Ltd are functioning without license since 2008. No action has been taken by the Board despite it being brought to their notice.
The 48.5 MW coal-fired thermal plant has been set up illegally by the company, by-passing the mandatory environmental clearance process. Chemplast Plant III, which houses the new power plant, does not have the statutory license -- the Consent to Operate under the Air and Water Acts. The Sub-inspector of Karumalaikoodal Police Station, who arrived at the factory gate to dissuade the villagers, refused to confront the company on their illegal operation stating that this was a subject that ought to be dealt with by the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the District Administration. The company has reportedly written to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board intimating them of their intent to conduct steam lines testing for 15 days starting 1 September. The Board has neither permitted nor denied them permission for testing. "How can the Board countenance the perpetration of a hazardous activity in a factory, when the entire factory is operating without license," asks Madeshwaran. Chemplast Plant III's consent to operate expired on March 30, 2008, and has not been renewed since due to community complaints. Moreover, an appeal against the Board's decision to permit the construction of the thermal plant without an EIA or public hearing is pending with the Appellate Authority in Chennai. However, even while granting permission to construct, the Board has indicated that it will prosecute senior officials of the company for fraudulently under-reporting the investment cost at Rs. 45 crores, instead of Rs. 177 crores.
Members of the Gonur West Agriculturists Development Union have filed a police complaint at the Karumalaikoodal Police station charging the company with causing noise and public nuisance, a criminal act punishable by jail term and penalty.