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Opposition to Saurashtra Cements unit intensifies

G.K. Nair

`Spillage while loading and unloading in mid-sea and at the clinker jetty inside the port would pollute the inland waters and other water bodies in the estuary.'

KOCHI, Nov. 28

SAURASHTRA Cements's proposal to set up a clinker grinding unit and a clinker jetty at Azhikode port on the Kodungallur coast in Thrissur district is facing stiff opposition from the local people, who claim it would destroy the marine wealth in the region besides polluting the air and water.

In a letter to the Chief Minister and the Secretary, Union Ministry of Environments and Forests (MEoF), the people's council has urged the State and Central Governments to stop the plant being set up there.

The Janakeeya Samithi General Convenor, Mr Jossy Palliparampil, told Business Line: "By opposing the project, we are defending the livelihood and the normal healthy harmonious social well-being of the people of our panchayat and surrounding places of this port.''

More than 50,000 people live in the Pallipuram panchayat (in which the proposed unit falls) alone, and a majority of them are fishermen.

Fishing from both inland and marine areas and other related activities are the main source of income for the people.

The revenue of the panchayat itself is based on the fishing industry surrounding the area, especially Munambam, he said.

He added that the region was endowed with plenty of open water bodies, backwaters, brackish water, estuaries, nurseries, fish ponds and the `Pokkali fields'.

The disposition of Pokkali fields is a rare phenomenon, wherein rice and shrimp are cultivated sequentially; it is considered the most fertile fishery region in Kerala.

Its productivity is up to 30 per cent of Kerala's total fish production, which exceeds six lakh tonnes per annum.

"The port in question is the confluent region of three channels, the major port at Kochi, the Kodungallur (Munambam) and the Chettuva river, which naturally provide and contribute much to the regeneration of fishery resources."

The employment generated by the fishing industry around this port is more than 25,000 and there are around 11,000 fishermen actively engaged in fishing in the vicinity of the impact area of 10 km radius of the proposed project.

More than 600 fishing boats operate from here regularly. Country crafts, outboard and inboard canoes constitute around 600.

"Marine coastal and offshore fishing by the mechanised and traditional sector provide employment to at least 8,000 people. More than 3,000 fishermen are engaged in other inland fisheries within 10 km radius of the impact area as specified in the EIA report."

On the whole, he added, more than 1.5 lakh people around the port and within the impact area depend on water resources and fisheries for earning their daily bread.

The proposed plant would cause serious air pollution around the area. It is believed that the dust may reach up to 20 km radius as strong winds prevail along the coastline in almost all seasons.

Severe spillage of clinker while loading and unloading in mid-sea and at the clinker jetty inside the port would pollute the inland waters and other water bodies of the estuary.

The water pollution caused by emissions and effluents from the plant would further boost destruction of the marine eco-system and the natural nurseries contiguous to the sea mouth, eventually leading to the depletion of Kerala's fish production.

On the other hand, pollution of rivers such as Periyar and Chalakkudy puzha would lead to health hazards and deterioration of physical and biological parameters of the natural system.

In fact, the CRZ regulation of Feb 20, 1991 as modified in 1993 and 1999 has prohibited or regulated several such activities along the coast. The proposed cement project violates the above regulations and acts, the Janakeeya Samithi said.

The rapid environmental impact assessment study conducted by the Regional Research Laboratory (RRL), Thiruvananthapuram has placed the impact of the project on air quality as negative from plant and fugitive emissions.

It has also shown the impact on aquatic, fisheries and noise environment as negative. Based on these facts, the Janakeeya Samithi urged the MEoF not to grant environmental clearance to the proposed project.

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