The people of Visakhapatnam, especially those in the old city in the vicinity of the port, have made a fervent plea to the authorities of the Visakhapatnam to stop handling dirty cargoes such as coal and protect the health of the two million residents in the city and its vicinity.

The plea was made at a public hearing on port projects held near the administrative office on Friday morning. Port Chairman M.T. Krishna Babu had a hard time in pacifying the irate public, assuring the latter that the port would take all possible pollution control measures and that in the next two or three years Rs 200 crore would be spent on pollution control at the port.

The public hearing began on a stormy note, with the Chairman's opening remarks being repeatedly interrupted by the agitated activists who found fault with the port authorities for not implementing the past promises in controlling pollution at the port.

Activist A. Vimala accused the port authorities of being "utterly indifferent and even callous to the issues of public health. The people in the old city are suffering from respiratory problems and several other maladies due to the pollution caused by port. Now, without taking any steps to control the present pollution, the port is embarking on expansion of capacity."

She said coal handling should be immediately stopped at Visakhapatnam, as at Chennai, and otherwise people would have to launch an agitation for the purpose. Several other residents from the old city spoke in the same tenor.

M.A Rasool, an advocate who filed a petition in the High Court against the port pollution, said the port authorities were playing havoc with the lives of the people, especially those in the old city.

Shireen Rehman, of the Chaitanya Sravanthi, said the environment impact assessment report was full of flaws and no attempt was made to study the pollution issue seriously and find solutions.

In response, port chairman Krishna Babu said the issues raised by the public would be taken note of and every effort would be made to address them. The mechanisation of the iron ore handling complex, the construction of new berths and the expansion of the container terminal, taken up at total cost of Rs 2,500 crore, would reduce pollution levels. "We will make every effort to make Vizag a green port in the next five years," he promised.