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dam-l Struggle to save Chaliyar River in Kerala

Dear friends,

Please extend your support and solidarity.

Medha Patkar


From: "Surendranath C" <suran@vsnl.com>
To: "India Link" <il-environment@unv.ernet.in>
Cc: "Bittu Sahgal" <bittu@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in>,
        "Enviro Journalist list" <owner-india-ej@unv.ernet.in>,
        "Medha Patkar" <medhap@bom5.vsnl.net.in>,
        "Gopalan TN" <sasidar@md3.vsnl.net.in>
Subject: Chaliyar  struggle
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 00:21:08 +0530
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Dear friends,
This is a much delayed sequel to the appeal by Mr. K.A.Rahman which we at
the Chaliyar Action Committee had sent to you through India Link. On 11
January 1999, Mr. Rahman departed us, becoming the latest victim of cancer,
the very evil he had been fighting against all these years. Since then we
were in the struggle of organising ourselves for a last ditch battle
against the killer industry, Grasim Industries.

>From January 26 (the Indian Republic Day) onwards people are holding a
relay hunger strike near the factory at Mavoor demanding its closure as the
only lasting solution to the problem.

 For the last 30 years, K. A. Rahman had been in the forefront of the fight
against the pollution caused by the pulp factory of the Grasim Industries
at Mavoor in Kerala, South India. His appeal from his deathbed to continue
the struggle did not go unheard. The struggle of the people of Vazhakkad
and other pollution-hit villages for their right to life, right to
unpoisoned water and air, has now become a larger struggle -- a struggle
for the common future of the people of Kerala, a struggle for a different
vision of development free from disease, deprivation and unwarranted death.
There has been an immense, spontaneous response to Rahman's last and
desperate appeal. It has helped to bring together a number of people from
various walks of life, to join hands with the people of Vazhakkad village,
one of the most affected among the pollution-hit villages. All these people
have come together to take the struggle to a new phase.This struggle of the
people of Vazhakkad is about the right to live, right to access clean water
and clean air, right to protect our rivers and forests, right to a healthy
environment. It concerns all of us.
There is a need to find an immediate and permanent solution to the problems
that have been haunting the nearly 300,000 people around the factory even
if it means closure of the factory and denial of employment to nearly 3,000
others. There is a need to prevent  identical problems occurring elsewhere
in future. There is a need to find development options that suit a state
like Kerala, development possibilities that do not tax the people's right
to lead a healthy life.

This struggle is not, as it is made out to be too often, against
development, against workers who earn their living from the factory. Nor do
we see this struggle as a fight against capitalist interests of the Birla
group. It is about human lives. It is about people dying of cancer, asthma,
heart attacks, chronic bronchitis. It is about water that has become
undrinkable, air that has become unbreathable, a river (Chaliyar) that is
dying a slow death. It is about dwindling sources of livelihood and about
destruction of forest wealth. Above all, the struggle is about the
irreversible tragedy of a people who now have no option but to fight for
their survival.

The struggle must continue at multiple levels.
In this struggle we need your participation in all possible ways which we
can work out.

We shall send you factual details on  the issue very soon and shall provide
you with regular updates on the struggle that is already on.

Dr. K.V.Hameed  &
For Chaliyar Action Committee, Pettah, Feroke P.O., Calicut, Kerala, South
India. Phone : 91 495 403008 / 91 495 304114


Chaliyar Struggle: A Calendar of Events

1958 May 30: Agreement signed for setting up the factory. Capacity 100
tonnes per day of rayon grade pulp. Initial Capital investment: Rs. 18 Crores.
 State Government promises an annual supply of 1.6 lakh tonnes of bamboo at
Re.1 per tonne

1962 August 3: The First Supplementary Agreement on supply of raw material
                increasing it to 2 lakh tonnes per annum (tpa)

1963:  Pulp Unit starts functioning. Untreated effluents let out into
Chaliyar River at Kalpelly, 1.6 Km downstream. Dead fish float on the
river."From day one we felt betrayed" - K A Rahman, ex-Vazhakkad Panchayat

        People launch the first agitation. Grasim management promises to
the effluents directly into the sea and to lay a 20-km pipeline by 1966.

1967:  More protests; more false promises.

1968:  Viscose staple fibre unit commissioned. Installed capacity 15,000 TPA.
        In response to local demands, State Government appoints an Expert
1972: Pollution continues. It takes four years for the Committee to
recommend setting up Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and entrust the job
with National Environment Engineering Research Instititue (NEERI).

1973:   More agitation.  Government appoints yet another committee, this
time to review the implementation of the earlier recommendations.

1974:  Indian Parliament enacts the Water Act. Kerala State Board for
Prevention and Control of Water Pollution set up.
        ON July 10 the company and the State Government sign the second
supplementary agreement. Despite the admission that "sustained yield of
bamboo in the contract area has become depleted," the Government renews
promises supply of 3.6 lakh tonnes of raw materials. The revised price per
tonne of bamboo: Average Rs. 25.59 for 40,000 tonnes from the contract
areas; Rs. 28 per tonne for 20,000 tonnes from outside the contract areas;
Eucalyptus at the rate of  Rs. 22.50 per tonne and other species of wood @
Rs. 15 per tonne

        Production capacity of the pulp unit increased to 200 tpd.

        Agitation intensifies
              On December 16, the company and the Government sign the
`Ramanilayam Agreement'   which recommends shifting the effluent  discharge
point to Chungapally, seven kms further downstream.

                             --"The most unscientific and illogical
solution one can think of to solve the problem of river water pollution,"
observes Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP).

1977: The Estimates Committee of the Kerala Assembly visits the factory.
People persuade the Committee to visit the polluted areas.

1978 December 16: Thousands of people troop to Elamaram and partly demolish
the bund constructed by the company to prevent contamined water reaching
the water-intake point of the factory.  After the construction of the bund,
toxic effluents had stagnated in the river, turning it into a cesspool of
stinking, black, soupy concoction.

1979:   M K Raghavan,  minister, visits the area and orders the company to
complete the effluent pipeline to Chungapally at the earliest. Instead of
obeying the order, Grasim closes  the unit for a few months citing labour
problems as the reason.

1980 December 3: The company finally commissions the effluent pipeline --
six years after it was  recommended.

1982   January 13:  People of Chungapally damage the pipeline.  Toxic
effluents spread to paddy fields, water tanks and wells.  The company
discharges effluents through the old outlet at Kalpally.  People prevent
the company technicians from repairing the pipeline. Grasim seeks police
protection.  Kozhikode District collector restrains the company from
discharging effluents into Chaliyar or any other place where it would
endanger the water supply to Kozhikode City.

        March 1: Company files a case in the High Court seeking police
for pipeline repairs.  While allowing the plea for protection, Justice K.K
Narendran makes the significant observation:
" The banks of Chaliyar, once a health resort, have     virtually become a
hell on earth.  At least for one decade the people there are suffering.
The petitioner company has liberally contributed to this.  If the State
Government and the Kerala State Board for Prevention and Control of Water
Pollution had taken effective steps, this could have been prevented long

        September 9: The Chief Minister convenes a conference at Ernakulam and
recommends reducing  pulp production to 125 tpd. A monitoring committee
with peoples' participation suggested.

        Dr. Vijayamadhavan submits a petition to the Rajya Sabha.

1985 July 7: The company stops work following labour strike.

A long period of reprieve for the people on the banks of  Chaliyar. But
workers of Grasim plunge into misery. 13 workers commit suicide. A massive
protest builds up agains Grasim, demanding  the reopening of the factory.
Com. A. Vasu observes hunger strike for 13 days.  Government intervenes,
holds   discussions.

        October 27: An agreement is signed for reopening the factory.
 The agreement  covers new norms for raw material supply (2 lakh tonnes per
year) for the next 5 years at a reduced price of Rs. 250 per tonne. Trade
unions concede the management's demand for desisting from strikes for the
next five years.

        Pollution recommences on a large scale.

1986 :   The Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions submits its report:

1994:   The Vazhakad Panchayat, which faces the brunt of air pollution,
conducts a health survey.
The survey reveals that in the five years prior to it, 199 persons had died
of cancer within the panchayat area.
At the time of the survey there were 79 cancer patients in the panchayat,
in addition to 58 heart patients, 176 with TB, 134 with Asthma 117 with
ulcer, 50 persons suffering from kidney problems, 129 cases of epilepsy, 75
mentally retarded persons, 82 with skin diseases, 514 persons with sight
deficiencies and 244 diabetes patients.

1995:  The State Pollution Control Board sends a telegram to Grasim to stop
effluent discharges through                  unauthorised outlets and finds
more such discharge points.

June 23: Three Grasim workers die while repairing a manhole in the effluent
 The District Collector orders an inquiry into the incident. An expert team
led by the Joint Director, Dept. of Factories and Boilers, reports that
absence of safety measures and callousness of management had led to the
death of the workers.
July : SPCB collects more such samples,files a case against Grasim in the
Kunnamangalam Judicial I Class Magistrate Court and obtains an interim
injunction against discharging any effluent into the river until they
satisfied the prescribed standards.

        Grasimgoes on discharging effluents.

1995 Oct. 30:.  Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, conducts
"Cancer Detection Camp" at Vazhakkad.

1996: January 12: PCB sends notice to the company, restraining it from
discharging  any effluents in to the river or anywhere else until the
effluents meet the safety       standards.

        August 31:  The Kunnamanglam JFCM makes absolute the interim injunction.
        Grasim goes on appeal to the Sessions Court, Kozhikode.

        KSPCB denies consent to Grasim for discharging effluents in to the
river.Company goes on appeal to the Sessions Court, Calicut.

1998 November 28: The Sessions Court allows the Company's revision
petition, setting       aside the Kunnamangalam JFCM's orders on the ground that
only the Pollution Control Board, and not its Chairman, had powers to
authorise the regional engineer at Kozhikode to file a petition under Sec.
33 of Water Pollution Control Act.

1999 January 11:  Mr.. K. Abdul Rahman, ex-President, Vazhakkad Panchayat,
who was in the forefront of the struggle against pollution at Mavoor for
more than three decades, succumbs to cancer.

        January 17: A State-level Convention held at Kozhikode demands
closure of
the entire Mavoor unit, redeploying/compensating the workers and paying
compensations to the villagers affected by pollution.
January 20: Ten persons hospitalised after a sulphur dioxide gas leak from
the factory.
January 21: SPCB orders closure of the CS2 plant.

January 26: Chaliyar Action Committee begins an indefinite relay hunger
strike in front of the Grasim Industries.