Hundreds of activists of the Action Council for Environmental Protection, an organisation which has launched an agitation against polluting plywood units in the district, took out a march to the District Medical Officer’s office here on Saturday. They were protesting against the alleged apathy of the authorities towards their demands.
Inaugurating the dharna, social activist P.C. Cyriac said an expert committee had to study the health problems generated by the plywood industry in thickly populated areas.
The 24-hour functioning of plywood units worsened the situation, he said. Action Council Chairman Varghese Pulluvazhy, environmental activists S. Seetharaman, John Peruvanthanam, Francis Kalathingal and Eloor Gopinathan and others spoke. The Council also started a ‘fast unto death’ stir in front of the Collectorate.
The Action Council started the agitation on October 31 last year after carcinogenic chemicals from the plywood industry began to seep into the ground, polluting drinking water sources. The fumes that emanated from the polluting units caused discomfort to residents.
When representations made by residential colonies met with no success, aggrieved residents joined hands to form the Paristhithi Samrakshana Karma Samithi. Mr. Pulluvazhy, a retired school teacher, heads the organisation. A few environmental activists have lent their support to the cause.
Alarmed by the response to the issue and the commitment shown to the cause, political parties are in a pensive mood. Both the Congress and the CPI(M) enjoy considerable clout in towns such as Perumbavoor and Kothamangalam, where the plywood industry thrives. BJP too has a strong base in Perumbavoor.
N.C. Mohanan, a prominent leader of the CPI(M) and former municipal chairman of Perumbavoor, termed the demand of the samithi to shift the polluting units as impractical. “Many of the plywood units have been functioning in locations which have now become residential areas. The severe pollution issue pertains to only 10 to 15 units and the problems there need to be solved in a scientific and practical manner. The entire plywood industry should not be crucified for the lapses in certain units,” he said.
T.P. Hassan, INTUC leader, closely associated with trade union activities in Perumbavoor, said the authorities had given permission to operate the units. “Waste water treatment system and dust collectors would have to be set up in polluting units. Some companies were stubborn and failed to respond to the demands of the locals, creating bad blood.” He also alleged that a north Indian lobby interested in annihilating the plywood industry in Kerala was working behind the scenes.
S. Sitaraman, an educationist and environmental activist, who had studied the issue and prepared a report on the condition of plywood units, said pollution was rampant in the villages where the units are situated. Several units are operating without proper licences, according to him.
“It was the merit of the issue coupled with the apathy shown by authorities and political parties to the cause that led to the formation of the samithi,” said Mr. Varghese. It was driven by a necessity to unite and agitate. “The Pollution Control Board had permitted less than 200 plywood units to operate in the areas under dispute, but about 800 units are operating there. The illegal activity is being carried out in connivance with political parties,” he said. He alleged that political parties were getting kickbacks from the owners of the plywood units.