CHENNAI: A large paper mill on the foothills of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) in Pollachi has been accused of causing air pollution and contaminating groundwater by discharging effluent outside its premises.
S Rajendran, owner of a coconut grove, recently lodged a complaint with the forest department claiming that water in his well and nearby forest streams (frequented by wildlife) was being polluted by effluent from the paper mill, Shree Karthik Papers Limited, and that dust spewed into the air from the factory's chimneys were getting deposited in adjacent residential areas.
According to a classification by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), paper and pulp industry is the one of the 17 highly polluting industries. Based on the complaint, a team from the forest department visited the factory a few days ago.
Senior officials of the ATR told The New Indian Express they would be assessing the impact of the factory under the 'red category' industry on wildlife and adjacent waterbodies. The mill manufactures 875 tonnes of paper a month.
Shree Karthik Papers general manager A Ravindran told The New Indian Express that the factory had all pollution mitigation measures such as an effluent treatment plant and a mechanised dust collector and that it was functioning since 1995. "We have a valid Consent to Operate (CTO) from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB)," Ravindran said.
According to official records, the factory was built in 2000 on 4,576 square metres. In 2018, it sought wildlife clearance to construct a biomass power plant on 962 square metres, for which an application was submitted to the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife. The forest department, however, is yet to appraise the project.
Several forest officials told The New Indian Express that the factory fell within the proposed ecological sensitive zone (ESZ) of the ATR. "The proposal has been forwarded to the Union environment ministry. A team from the Wildlife Institute of India is expected to visit the area for ground truthing. Once the ESZ is declared, many of these existing factories would be subjected to a closer scrutiny," they said.
Ravindran, the general manager of the mill, said the factory dealt with only paper waste. It recycled the waste and turned it into new paper. "Paper recycling hardly involves use of any problematic chemical. Over the past three decades of operation, we had never been accused of causing any harm to wildlife or the environment. The forest department also hasn’t attributed any wildlife death to us," he said.
Last month, The New Indian Express visited the area and found thick white effluent flowing out from the factory premises. There were clear foot marks of wild animals, probably those of spotted deer.