BENGALURU:Copper smelting units, even prior to the gruesome protest against the Sterlite unit in Tuticorin, have had a notorious history in countries which were being newly industrialised. One such smelting unit was planned 24 years ago along the coastline of Dakshina Kannada district. Unlike the infamous unit in the East Coast at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, a protest against which claimed 13 lives eventually leading to its shut down, the proposed unit at Kulai near Mangaluru in the West coast of Karnataka did not even see the light of the day.
It was in 1994, when a group of ‘eco-terrorists’, fishermen and activists joined hands against a unit proposed to be set up by Indo-Gulf Fertilisers and Chemicals Corporation Limited of the Birla Group. Opposition for the unit was immediate, as people of the region were quick in realising the impact the unit would have on local flora and fauna, and how it would affect fishermen.
While activists like Ravindranath Shanbhag and Somanath Nayak headed the campaign, the participation of Jnanpith award winner Shivaram Karanth ensured that the angst of local population is communicated to people in power. Speaking to The Sunday Standard, Somanath Nayak of Nagarika Seva Trust said that the movement to prevent the factory was sustained due to the activities such as ‘Save Western Ghats Padayatra’, which had educated people on the importance of conservation. “There were many organisations which were working towards conservation and sustainable development. As a result, when people realised what the smelting units could do, they opposed it tooth and nail,” Nayak said.
Though there were efforts by some bureaucrats to approve the project by allotting land without public consultation, protests by activists and locals succeeded in convincing the government. Shivaram Karanth, who opposed it, contributed to the movement by penning several letters to the government explaining the fears of the people and the project’s impact on the environment.
Another activist Ranjan Rao Y said that people had opposed the unit “only in theory”, as copper smelting units had a lot of bad reputation. “Massive investments were proposed during the period and Mangalore was being considered the new industrial hub as around `25,000 crore was to be invested the region,” Rao said, adding that the move was not anti-industry, but only against the type of industry.
Rao recalled how environmentalists who were opposed to the project were dubbed ‘eco-terrorists’ by the then Chief Minister H D Deve Gowda, who was keen on the project.