Only clean cargo such as containers and cars will be allotted to the Chennai port for handling from October 1 this year. All dusty cargo such as coal and iron ore will be allotted to the Ennore Port, about 20 km from here.

A direction to this effect was given by the Madras High Court to the Shipping Secretary on Wednesday.

It said the Right to Life with its extended meaning of including the right to clean environment was as sacrosanct as the citizens' basic right.

In its order allowing writ petitions, a Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M.Venugopal said since coal and iron ore terminals and the single line rail connectivity at Ennore Port were assured to be operational to their full capacity by September this year, the Shipping Secretary should ensure that all dusty cargo should move only to Ennore port from October 1 and not to the Chennai port.

The Bench directed the Chennai port to assist the Centre and the Tamil Nadu Government in this direction.

Earlier, the Avoor Muthiah Maistry Street Residents Welfare Association, Tondiarpet, represented by its president, S.M.K.Swamy, wrote a letter in March 2002 to the Chief Justice of the High Court explaining the hardship faced by people because of iron ore unloaded at the harbour. The letter was treated as a writ petition.

In September 2002, the Chief Justice (CJ) along with the court's Buildings Committee members while inspecting the premises noticed coal dust on walls and floor due to loading and unloading of the material in huge quantities by the Chennai Port Trust (CPT.) The Chief Justice was informed that despite three notices in 2001 and 2002 by the Pollution Control Board, the CPT did not respond. The CJ ordered that the notices be treated as a taken up writ petition. There were two other writ petitions.

The petitioners' case was that the unabated pollution by the Chennai port was the reason for many health hazards for people living in the surrounding areas. The port and channelling agencies were not taking the prescribed steps to control dust pollution because of their activities. They prayed the court for a direction to shift unloading and dumping of imported coal and iron ore from Chennai Port to Ennore Port.

The CPT contended it was handling coal and iron ore based on trade's requirement. The Centre had decided to shift the dusty cargo to the Ennore port, which was readying its facilities for handling coal and iron ore.

The Bench said the CPT had not taken any appreciable step towards arresting the pollution. The port's so-called measures were inadequate to address the pollution issue in the area. The various orders by the court and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to CPT had not been cared by the port “exhibiting its callous attitude and scant regard to public health and security.”

The court did not accept the CPT's argument that shifting of dusty cargo operations to Ennore would lead to unrest among employees and pensioners.

This was in view of the well established principle of law that the interest of society's major sections should always prevail over that of small sections.

As regards the CPT employees and pensioners, the Centre, the Tamil Nadu government and the two ports should ensure that not a single employee was retrenched because of distribution of cargo between the CPT and Ennore Port.


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