Panel to reassess ecological damages sought
Farmers of Vellore district are pinning their hopes on the State government to set up an independent expert body to reassess the actual impact of tannery effluents as well as work out strategies to reverse the ecological damage caused in the district.
Though the Supreme Court, on the pubic interest litigation filed by the Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum, had ordered the formation of the Loss of Ecology Authority (LEA) way back in 1996, which had gone into the details of assessing the damages and awarding compensation, the farmers contended that the assessment was partisan and based on frivolous assumptions, and the compensation awarded was meager.
They alleged that during the study, soil and water samples were collected randomly and the crop loss monetising methods adopted were vague. The study lacked a holistic approach and was unacceptable, said Jamuna Thiagarajan, president of the Vellore District Palar Protection Association. The exercise, at best could be taken as a good beginning and not an end to rehabilitate the farmers, she added.
The award of compensation could at best be taken as a temporary relief. The expert body, comprising of affected farmers, NGOs, tanners, technocrats and officials, should be constituted by the State, to conduct a comprehensive study to reassess the actual damage done to the farming community and evaluate the damages to natural resources, animals and human health conditions, said Asokan, secretary of the Movement of Environment Protection and Social Development, another NGO.
The LEA study was restricted only to crop loss and had nothing to do with soil damage, its ecological value, biotic future and its impact on the flora and fauna. The compensation to the farmers must be given not, just for 7 years (from 1991 to 1998), but for the damages caused by the tanneries since their inception in 1960s, and from 1998 until now, he added.
While the State government had appointed a special team of officials headed by a DRO for awarding compensation to the land acquired in the district for widening the national highways, a similar set-up can be constituted in the case of awarding compensation to the pollution victims also, pointed out R Mullai, state executive member of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam. He also wanted the tanners to work out appropriate time-bound plans to restore the damaged ecology in Vellore district on a long-standing basis.
Social activist R Chandrasekaran maintained that the compensation did not cover the damages suffered by the lifeline of the district, namely the Palar River basin, the underground water mechanism of which had been severely impaired by the chemicals, heavy metals, dyes and other in-organic by-products of the tanneries in the area.