Tamil Annai Thamirabarani Welfare Trust
T Balasubramania Adityan Founder
T Chandrasekhar Sharma
e-mail the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
V SUNDARAM , former IAS officer
The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court admitted on 5.9.07a public interest litigation that seeks to restrain the government from clearing Tata Group's Rs 2,500 crore Titanium Dioxide Project in Tamilnadu without conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Hon'ble Justices Prafulla Kumar Misra and P R Shivakumar issued notices to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Tamilnadu Government, Project Director of Tata Iron and Steel Company and the State Pollution Control Board, returnable in four weeks.
A Farmers' Association in Tirunelveli district had filed the petition claiming that an EIA was mandatory for the project to be implemented in 16,000 acres of land, of which around 3,000 acres would be on the sea shore. According to a study conducted in West Africa, titanium dioxide extraction could cause deforestation, relocation of villages, chemical pollution and radioactivity. The undue haste with which this project has been cleared in principle by the Government of Tamilnadu on a war footing in complete disregard of all the notifications relating to 'Environmental Clearance' issued by the Government of India in the Union Ministry of Environment raises many issues relating to public interest and welfare affecting the lives of thousands of people not only in Sathankulam area in Tuthukkudi District, but throughout South Tamilnadu.
On 28 June, 2007, a MOU was signed by the Government of Tamilnadu and Tatas for setting up a big industry for the manufacture of Titanium Dioxide at a cost of about Rs 2500 crore for which an extent of 9828 acres was to be acquired by the Government on behalf of Tatas. The Government deputed a team under the leadership of a Minister and it is understood that this team had recommended that a measly compensation of Rs 1.16 lakh per acre be paid to the land owners of the area.
As there was a huge public outcry against this proposal for large scale acquisition of lands, several political parties also joined the fray and raised a strong objection to the land acquisition proceedings. Many political parties conducted public hearing and ascertained the views of the people regarding the Titanium Dioxide Project. In accordance with the known and established pattern in Tamilnadu politics, most of the opposition parties claim that the common people in Sathankulam are against this new project. As usual, the ruling party in Tamilnadu claims that the people of the area are whole-heartedly welcoming the project.
As a free lance journalist, I have checked up the position in the field. The simple truth is the people of the area do not want to part with their valuable lands for a paltry sum fixed by the Government of Tamilnadu. They have become aware of the fact that Tatas (with the full knowledge and blessings of the Government of Tamilnadu) are going to make not less than Rs.500,000 crores after purchasing an extent of nearly 10,000 acres at a total cost of less than Rs 110 crore.
More than 100,000 farmers will become landless refugees in their own native district. The calculated contempt for the landless poor by the Government of Tamilnadu on the one hand and callous corporate greed of corporate companies on the other would only lead to this avoidable disaster.
Most of the political parties which raised a strong objection against the land acquisition proceedings have now turned silent. Most of the common people are alleging that this is part of an orchestrated conspiracy of silence.