Thoothukudi Pollution Crackdown: Why Is Sterlite Plant Being Singled Out, Asks Study

by M R Subramani - Jun 4, 2018 06:23 PM +05:30 IST
Thoothukudi Pollution Crackdown: Why Is Sterlite Plant Being Singled Out, Asks StudyThe Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi. (Twitter)
  • Are protesters more keen on protecting the city’s environment or shutting down Vedanta’s copper plant in Thoothukudi?

    Why are three other firms that cause more pollution not being questioned, asks a research done by LEMS Academy.

UK-based Vedanta Group’s Sterlite Copper Plant has been shut on charges that its solid and liquid waste discharges are polluting the environment in Tamil Nadu’s port city of Thoothukudi. But research carried out by Let’s Make Engineering Simple (LEMS) Academy, an organisation set up to take science to people, has revealed that there are other industries that are polluting the city manifold than Sterlite.

In a video that LEMS released on its study, the organisation wonders if the protests held in Thoothukudi were to protect the city’s environment or just shut Sterlite. If the objective of the protesters was to protect the environment, then they should have questioned at least three other companies that are polluting the city more than any other firm. These three companies are V V Titanium Pigments Private Limited, Southern Petrochemicals Industries Corporation (SPIC) and Tuticorin Alkalis Chemicals and Fertilisers Limited (TACL).

Water in the city and two other villages nearby, Therku Veerapandiyapuram and Kumara Ettiyapuram – was found below quality. Thoothukudi citizens are more concerned about an open ground near Sterlite, that belongs to V V Titanium Pigments, where chemicals are being discharged on the ground for more than one square kilometre. The land has been fenced and no one is allowed to go in. Any cattle that manages to get in has been found dead. Voices raised against this have gone unheard and a LEMS team that collected the water sample on the land were chased away by three to four unidentified people.

On testing, the water was found to have total dissolved solids of 170,865 milligrams per litre (mg/l), nearly 90 times the permissible limit of 500 mg/l. Acidity level was at least 1.75 times more than the permitted level, while phosphate level was 186 mg/l and lead 3.36 mg/l – all much above the maximum limit. Presence of fluoride, boron, sulphate and nitrate were far higher than the stipulated levels.

Thoothukudi Pollution Crackdown: Why Is Sterlite Plant Being Singled Out, Asks Study

In its earlier avatar, V V Titanium Pigments was Kilburn Chemicals before the management hands changed for Rs 110 crore in 2011. Just before that, a study conducted by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute revealed that the company was polluting water in Thoothukudi city. The question now being raised is that why environment activists have not questioned the pollution caused by V V Titanium Pigments, while fighting tooth and nail against Sterlite.

(V V Titanium Pigments is owned by V V Vaikundarajan, who has been charged with illegally mining beach sand. A writ petition is currently being heard by the Madras High Court in which at least two reports have said that beach sand was illegally mined by his firm V V Minerals and a couple of other companies.)

Similarly, in the effluent let out by SPIC and TACL, the amount of ammonia released was 121 mg/l against the limit of 0.5. The LEMS also took samples of effluents let out by these firms into the sea, where the level of ammonia was again a higher 43 mg/l. In a stream that ran near Sterlite, the amount of chloride was 607 mg/l against a cap of 250 mg/l and sulphate presence was 3,184 mg/l (200 mg/l).

Thoothukudi Pollution Crackdown: Why Is Sterlite Plant Being Singled Out, Asks Study

Examination of water samples in Therku Veerapandiyapuram and Kumara Ettiyapuram showed presence of chemicals far above the permissible limits. (See Table).

However, things were far better when it came to Thoothukudi, where while the total dissolved solids’ presence was more than double the permissible level but chlorine and nitrate were below the maximum allowed limit. Sulphate, however, was a tad higher at 275 mg/l (200 mg/l).

People living near SPIC and TACL reported that they suffered from lung ailments and sometimes breathing was difficult. Similarly, fishermen in a colony near both units said that the effluents were killing their catches near the shore and they had to go inside the sea for the catch.

LEMS Academy said its team examined the solid and liquid waste management and found no problem with them. Every place the team visited, someone in the crowd reported their activities over mobile phone, including their vehicle number, to unidentified people.

One pertinent question that comes to mind on these revelations is: Why hasn’t no one pointed fingers at either V V Titanium Pigments, which exports titanium oxide, or the other two chemical firms?

Will Tamil Nadu government’s order stand the test of court when these facts are presented before it to prove that there are companies that are polluting Thoothukudi far more than the closed Sterlite?

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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