CHENNAI: The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday has directed the State government to restore the right to access to clean drinking water with immediate effect for the affected villagers in the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) estate in Cuddalore. Invoking the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the green tribunal has asked SIPCOT industries to pay the cost.
The interim order was passed in a case filed by petitioners S Pugazhendhi, S Sivshankar and GK Amirthalingam, hailing from Sangolikuppam, Semmankuppam and Eachangadu villages respectively, which are among the 21 worst-affected villages falling under three different panchayats.
Though the petition was filed about 18 months ago and notices were issued, SIPCOT had not filed its reply till date, incurring the wrath of the bench, which comprised Justice P Jyothimani and expert member PS Rao.
Noted environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who appeared for the cause of villagers, told Express that this is the first interim order passed by the bench in the case. “The first priority of the villagers was to have potable drinking water. Whether water will be supplied through tankers or any other means is for the SIPCOT industries and the government to decide.”
This apart, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has been directed to conduct fresh assessment of environmental degradation in and around the industrial estate, and submit a report at the next hearing scheduled for September 29.
S Pugazhendhi, also the member of SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors (SACEM), alleged that he had to travel 5 km each day to fetch three pots of water. “Before SIPCOT was set up in 1982, the groundwater tasted like coconut water. Now it smells like sewage. In my village Sangolikuppam alone, about 400 handpumps were abandoned because of contamination and saline water ingress. Earlier, water was available at 15 feet depth, but now there is no water up to 800 feet.” Both the TNPCB and Central Pollution Control Board acknowledged that Cuddalore SIPCOT is a critically polluted area and there is a presence of heavy metals like mercury in groundwater.
Replying to a query under the RTI Act, the board said it had taken 41 samples from at least from 11 locations including nine inside the premises of various factories in the complex between February 2013 and April 2014. The test confirmed the presence of heavy metals like cadmium, chromium and lead.