THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Resentment is brewing among residents and local fishers living in close proximity to the leakage site of the Travancore Titanium Products Ltd (TTPL) at Vettucaud in Kochuveli. As many as 200 fishermen families are residing along the stretch where the leakage of around 5,000 litres of furnace oil was detected two days ago.
Though the government has ordered a probe, local residents on Thursday night sealed the discharge outlet from the factory with cement bricks and mortar in protest. Meanwhile, hundreds of fishers engaged in fishing activities along the shore of the affected area are struggling for survival because of the ban on fishing activities owing to the oil spill.
Rosebell Richard, a 75-year-old residing next to the leakage site, was seen lamenting on their plight. “I have been living here for the past 50 years. We have invested our entire life and earnings to set up these homes and now we cannot leave the area just because the authorities couldn’t properly maintain the factory without polluting our living environment,” said Rosebell. She alleged that the state government is neglecting the local folks and giving employment to people from other districts.
“We are sacrificing so much thinking that the factory will offer livelihood to several of us. But they neglect us and give employment to those coming with recommendation letters from the higher authorities of churches,” said Rosebell. The leakage was detected by local fishermen on Wednesday. The state government has constituted a three-member team to investigate the incident.
Margaret David, another resident living close to the spillage site, expressed their helplessness as moving to another place is not at all an option. “We cannot give up our life here as all we have is this home. We survive from whatever we get from the sea,” said Margaret. On Thursday, District Collector Navjot Khosa held a meeting and directed the TTPL authorities to clean the entire shore where the spillage happened. However, the local residents have come out strongly against the cleaning drive demanding more employment opportunities for them.
Peter Paul, a local resident, said when the factory was set up in 1946, there was an agreement that the company should set aside at least 25 per cent posts to the local residents. “The company has never taken any effort to give employment to the local residents. There are around 200 houses on this shoreline close to the factory and we all are under constant threat because of the pollution caused by the factory,” he said.
Earlier when a similar leakage happened, the authorities promised to give us health insurance and hospital facilities. Apart from promises, we haven’t got anything,” said Paul, who was one among the local residents who reported the leakage. Paul said people are suffering from skin, heart and other health issues because of the unscientific handling of factory waste by the authorities.
What the company authorities say
As part of the internal investigation, the company has fired two employees in connection with the spillage of oil from the furnace into the sea. George Ninan, managing director of Travancore Titanium Products Ltd, said, “We are operating a neutralisation plant worth H40 crore to prevent environment pollution. We have also enhanced the capacity of the plant and a new plant would be commissioned very soon. We are still wondering from where all this resistance is coming.
We are doing a lot for the local residents and have rolled out various projects including a drinking water scheme for them,” said Ninan. He said the issue would be taken up with the district collector to take further action to clear the leakage site. “There is resistance from multiple groups and hence there is confusion,” he added. Travancore Titanium chairman A R Rasheed said it’s against the Constitution to give local reservation. “There is a court ruling against giving local reservations. It’s a policy decision which has to be taken by the state government. We have limitations to do such appointments,” Rasheed said.
Kambavala fishermen hit badly
According to Kambavala Fishermen’s Federation, around 2,000 fishermen involved in kambavala (shore seine) fishing are unable to venture into the sea because of the ban on fishing activities owing to the oil spillage. Federation president Tony Oliver said acid-laden waste water from Travancore Titanium continues to leak into the sea. “We want the authorities to give us compensation and give more job opportunities for local residents,” said Oliver.