Residents of Kamaraj Colony in Vilampatti near Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district have complained that they are sitting on a powder keg. The colony, inhabited by 310 Dalit families, is situated at a place where just four feet separates it from a fireworks unit.

According to some of the residents —K. Karuppiah (55), village head, P. Muniasamy(28), K. Kalpana (35), N. Veeralakshmi — the fireworks unit was constructed in 2007 and became functional from 2008-09.

About 275 to 300 workers were working in the factory. “Since the factory also functions at night, we are unable to sleep. The hazardous chemical powder used in the factory mixes with the air and the dust particles spread across the houses and affects our health,” complained the villagers.

A Madurai-based non governmental organisation (NGO), Evidence, did an on field study and found various anomalies.

It is the one that found the factory’s barbed wire fencing to be just four feet away from the Dalit colony.

However the Sivakasi panchayat union commissioner, in a letter to the village head, has stated that the distance between factory warehouse and the residential colony is 110 metres.

He further said that the required distance separating the habitation and factory godown is 64 metres only.

The villagers alleged that this statement of the Commissioner came as a shock to them.

The factory owners had initially bought the land stating that they would be constructing a college.

Factory owner Kannan said that it was constructed after adhering to rules and regulations and the distance separating the factory and households was 162 metres. “We have licence to run the factory till 2016.”

Manager Duraisamy said that the factory had 160 workers and it had 39 small buildings and a godown.

Five-year demand

In the last five years, the Dalit families have been protesting against the factory, demanding relocation but in vain. On September 12, about 100 villagers gave a petition to the Collector to this effect. The villagers said that the Code of Practice on Pollution Control has mentioned that for hazardous material category warehouses, the distance separating the warehouse and residential area must be 500 metres.

The NGO had recommended that the government should take necessary action to shift the factory, action should be taken against officials who were involved in helping the construction of the factory and the resultant damages given to the residents.