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 •  Contact the author Residents stop toxic waste landfill work
Nityanand Jayaraman

23 January 2006

Gummidipoondi, TN – On 12 January 2006, more than 200 residents, primarily women, from Gummidipoondi and neighbouring areas physically entered and stopped work at a project site of Tamilnadu Waste Management Ltd (TNWML)'s hazardous waste landfill and incinerator. The construction was being carried out without permission from the local government body and against the wishes of local residents. Women from Tamilnadu Women's Collective in Redhills and nearby areas and representatives of Community Environmental Monitoring also joined the residents in solidarity.

Speaking on behalf of the village, T Sudhakar of Pappankuppam said "We will move into the project site with our children and families, and physically block the location of the landfill and incinerator if the company and Government decide to press ahead with the project. If the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and Government does not protect us, we will protect ourselves."

TNWML, Hyderabad-based Ramky Associates' subsidiary, commenced civil works on the site on 2 January 2006, despite being warned on two occasions against construction without securing permission from the Panchayat Union Council as per the Tamilnadu Panchayats Act, 1994. In June 2005, the Gummidipoondi Panchayat Union issued a resolution against the facility. On 12 January, S R Kandigai Panchayat president Y Suresh served notice under the Panchayats Act to the project promoters asking them to stop work and restore the site to its original condition. A police complaint filed on 9 January 2006 is pending with the SIPCOT Gummidipoondi police station.

Villagers said they are stopping work because government agencies have failed to discharge their duty of protecting the law. Residents have filed a petition in the High Court that is likely to come up shortly.

The predominantly agricultural community in the area contends that the waste disposal project violates Supreme Court-sanctified siting guidelines, and will poison subsurface water, affect agriculture and threaten the groundwater and public health in the residential areas that lie about 500 metres from the project site. The project site has a 15-20 feet deep porous sand-stone layer with significant subsurface water flow towards the S R Kandigai village and farmlands nearby. Siting guidelines prohibit the setting up of such facilities near water bodies. However, the project site is less than 100 metres from the Kuluva Cheruvu pond.

Villagers also point out that it is ironical that the Tamilnadu Government is contemplating setting up a landfill in an area that supplied several hundred tanker loads of freshwater to Metrowater in 2004. "On the one hand, the government is contemplating mega-schemes such as the Rs 500 crore desalination plant. On the other, it is spending money to poison good water," residents said.

The Tamilnadu Government appears to be in a hurry to set up the toxic waste facility because it fears being pulled up by the Supreme Court for failing to set up a facility to receive industrial wastes despite being required to under the Hazardous Wastes Management Rules, 1989. Implementation of these rules is overseen by the Supreme Court’s own Monitoring Committee. Despite reminders by the Court since 1997 urging states governments to follow the Rules, the Tamilnadu Government has been unable to find a suitable site.

An earlier site chosen by the state government in Melakottaiyur had to be abandoned because of public opposition. Residents also say that subsequently, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee itself recommended siting of the facility in Gummidipoondi without first evaluating its suitability. They point out that the project violates SC's own siting guidelines, the EIA Notification, 1994, the Hazardous Waste Rules and the Tamilnadu Panchayats Act, 1994.

TNWML has attempted to begin construction on two occasions – in April 2005 and October 2005. Villagers who confronted Manoharan, Ramky Associates’ site engineer, said the company has failed to provide the Panchayat with the papers authorising it to begin construction despite having been asked several times including in April and October when illegal construction had begun and was forced to be suspended after villagers intervened.

Complaints were filed with the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes on both occasions, but no action was taken. In March 2005, villagers attended a public hearing organised by the District Collector of Thiruvallur and unanimously rejected the plant. The public hearing was illegal because no Environmental Impact Assessment was provided to the public in advance as required by law.

Nityanand Jayaraman
23 Jan 2006

Nityanand Jayaraman is Chennai-based independent journalist covering issues of corporate crime. Working through a voluntary collective called Corporate Accountability Desk, he volunteers support for a number of campaigns against pollution and corporate crime. Y. Suresh, president, S.R. Kandigai Panchayat can be reached at: Tel: 9894200264.

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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