Kodaikanal won’t back down; prepares for next round of battle

Local body ready to provide all support; also seeks compensation

August 13, 2015 12:00 am | Updated September 06, 2016 11:05 am IST - KODAIKANAL:

Hindustan Unilever's clinical thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. -File photo

Hindustan Unilever's clinical thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. -File photo

Buoyed by the massive response to ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ - the rap song on the mercury contamination around the defunct Unilever thermometer factory - the town of Kodaikanal is readying to up the ante on the issue. 

The proposal for coordinated action by NGOs and general public at the hill station got a fillip on Wednesday with the Municipal Council assuring all support, including a resolution on the issue of mercury contamination. 

A three-hour coordination meeting, that saw the participation of about 50 persons, including substantial number of women and a few foreigners, received multiple proposals for ground action coming from people with a variety of background, including farmers, social and health workers and traders.

There was also outrage at a statement by Unilever CEO Paul Polman last week that he wanted only facts and not "false emotions".

Expressing their dissatisfaction with successive governments since 2001, when the factory was closed by the TNPCB, the group also mooted boycotting of the Assembly polls as a possible option, though some were sceptical on how effective it could be given that voters are divided on party lines.

Addressing the coordination meeting, Municipal Council Chairman M. Sridhar said the music video had “awakened the conscience” of the town. 

“We are ready to provide all support, including a resolution in the Council, once we finish gathering all the facts of this case,” he said.

Mr. Sridhar, an AIADMK member, said the Municipality has spent a lot on the effects of the mercury contamination and had to work a lot to save the reputation of Kodaikanal as a pristine tourist spot. 

“There has to be compensation for the Municipality as well,” he asserted.  In response, the participants said successive Councils have only received petitions and did nothing.

Suggestions at the meeting included making the issue an electoral one and getting a guarantee from politicians that they would solve it in a time-bound manner. “Otherwise, effort has to be made to boycott the polls so that a strong message is delivered,” speakers at the meeting said. 

Many who participated in the consultation said the issue had to be campaigned as a pan-Tamil Nadu one, since water from the hill flows down and eventually reaches the Vaigai dam, which irrigates thousands of hectares. They also wanted the Municipal Chairman to conduct a health survey across the town to ascertain the effect that the mercury deposits may have had on the population. 

It was agreed that cleaning up of the site alone would not be the end of the story. Rather, the company had to provide a detailed plan on how it was going to compensate for the environment degradation, including alleged contamination of tress in the thick Pambar Shola and Bombay Shola forests.

The meeting also decided to consider campaigning for boycott of Unilever products across Kodaikanal.

The thermometer factory, which closed in 2001, has remained controversial with activists urging Unilever to clean up the area to international standards. 

The company has maintained that the “there were no adverse impacts on the health of employees or the environment.”

Meanwhile, an HUL spokesperson told  The Hindu  through e-mail that the company has submitted a Detailed Project Report (DPR) to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on the re-mediation process. Preparatory work for the same will commence immediately, a statement said. 

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