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Pollachi Wants Pollution to End as TN Parties Start Campaign

Fine particles from the coir industry plague Pollachi villages as production booms.

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4 min read

Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
Cameraperson & Producer: Smitha TK

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For nature lovers Pollachi and its coconut groves maybe a dream destination, but rapid pollution is taking away the green sheen of the town.

People of Kallipattipudur in Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi have been fighting for basic needs, such as clean air and water, even as coir pith industrial units have been mushrooming in the area.

The brown layer on one of the leaves is coir pith dust that has settled overtime.
The brown layer on one of the leaves is coir pith dust that has settled overtime.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Polluting Air, Water and Soil?

Coconut husk is procured from local markets and dumped in factories.
Coconut husk is procured from local markets and dumped in factories.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Nearly one lakh people are directly and indirectly employed in the coir units in Pollachi that export 90 per cent of their produce to China. The annual revenue generated by the units through exports stands at Rs 1,400 crore. The story behind this large scale industrial development is, however, worrisome.

Coconut husk procured from local markets of Mysore, Pattukottai, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is dumped in factories here. The pith and fibre are then separated. The fibre is processed and sold. The coir pith is spread out in open fields, watered thrice and left to dry for over three months. This has allowed harmful waste to seep into the ground and pollute water sources.

The coir pith is spread out in an open field, watered thrice and left to dry for over three months.
The coir pith is spread out in an open field, watered thrice and left to dry for over three months.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

The villagers of Kallipattipudur have alleged that open drying of coir waste has resulted in air pollution. The industrial units have also been illegally extracting groundwater, they alleged.

The coir pith industry does not have a proper waste disposal system in place. This has allowed harmful waste to seep into the ground. 
The coir pith industry does not have a proper waste disposal system in place. This has allowed harmful waste to seep into the ground. 
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
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Villagers Voice Concerns

For the past five years, Kumar Raj and Jyothi Sathya Priya have been fighting a battle against the alleged illegal extraction of water and violation of coir industry regulations.

Raj along with activists and officials try to ascertain the contamination levels of the groundwater.
Raj along with activists and officials try to ascertain the contamination levels of the groundwater.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Villagers allege that the coir companies in the region do not have requisite permissions from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

The Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) which conducted tests in the village's water sources has confirmed that the water has been highly contaminated with excess levels of iron and ammonia.

TWAD confirmed that the water has been highly contaminated.
TWAD confirmed that the water has been highly contaminated.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
A letter from Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) taking note of the pollution.
A letter from Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) taking note of the pollution.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The water’s Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels are at 800 plus points which means that it is highly contaminated.

"We spend lakhs of rupees to buy drinking water. This water can't be used even for agricultural purposes. In the last few years our coconut farm yields have come down tremendously. There is no other crop that grows here because our soil has become infertile. The coir pith dust has settled on all the leaves and our houses. It is causing breathing difficulties,” said Kumar Raj.

“A dog and a cow died after drinking this polluted water,” said Rajendran who lives in the village.

The fish in the ponds and wells have also reportedly died due to the contamination.
The fish in the ponds and wells have also reportedly died due to the contamination.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
“Here groundwater extraction has been banned but industries are extracting 20,000-30,000 litres of water from the borewells daily. This has affected irrigation.”
Kumar Raj, Farmer

In homes one notices a brown haze on kitchen slabs, windows and even the floors. Most of the plants too have a layer of dust that has stunted their growth.

Residents in the area have been facing skin and eye allergies apart from lung and throat infections.

“I have asthma and now because of the dust, I get breathing trouble even if I stay indoors. I have been diagnosed with serious respiratory illnesses and the doctor blames it on the coir dust,” said Pushpa, an elderly woman of the village.

The coir pith that flies from the fields has settled on the ground making it difficult to maintain their homes.
The coir pith that flies from the fields has settled on the ground making it difficult to maintain their homes.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
There have even been several incidents reported of the coir pith catching fire.
There have even been several incidents reported of the coir pith catching fire.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Solutions for the Menace?

The villagers have made several representations to officials to hear their grievances. 
The villagers have made several representations to officials to hear their grievances. 
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The villagers have filed several RTIs, sent representations to all authorities concerned but no action has been taken so far.

“These industries have been functioning without getting approved licenses from Tahsildar, BDO, Pollution Control Board and Panchayat,” Priya alleged.

The villagers proposed that strict safety regulations be introduced to ensure that tarpaulin is used for the drying of coir pith and the waste be stored in an enclosed space.

“These industries can also be relocated to a separate space like SIDCO, that is away from residential spaces,” Raj suggested.

Ahead of assembly elections slated for April, political parties are campaigning in Pollachi promising a boost for industries. But all that the villagers want are clean water and air. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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