CUDDALORE: Fluttering black flags give a gloomy welcome to anyone who enters Pudhukuppam village in Chidambaram. Black is not just a symbol of protest for these villagers, but a constant reminder of the coal dust that has settled over their lives for the last few months.
Pudhukuppam houses a coal-based thermal power plant run by IL&FS. Villagers here lament that coal dust from the plant’s storage yard was constantly falling over their heads due to strong winds the last few months.
A. Raman, a fisherman said, “Our houses are filled with coal dust always. Even if we try to clean the rooms, they turn sooty even before we finish cleaning.” Trying to wipe the dust off the floor, Raman showed his hands that turned black.
Other than hoisting black flags in their village, the residents have stayed off the sea for last seven days to mark their protest towards the government officials and the plant management. Another villager A Arumugam (73) is yet to come out of the trauma of his wife Amaravathi’s death three months ago. Blaming the dust from the power plant, Arumugam claimed that doctors had cited breathing trouble as the cause for her death.
P Ganesh, who was chosen by locals to spearhead the protest said, “Every day truck-loads of coal from Indonesia is brought to the power plant via Karaikal port. Until a closed storage facility is built to dump the coal, this problem can not be solved.”A few weeks ago, the villagers staged a sit-in at the local temple for seven days until the local MLA came and pacified them.
The worst affected are the students and teachers of Pudhukuppam Elementary School which is located just 100 metres away from the boundary walls of the power plant. Teachers fear dust-filled air would cause health issues.
Meanwhile, the power plant management is going ahead with setting up its own port at the vicinity of the plant to directly bring coal to its gates. When contacted, an official of IL&FS, who did not want to be named, admitted the dust issue and blamed strong winds in recent months as the reason. He, however, said that such problems never existed.