Agitation resurrected

Published: Monday 28 February 1994

What next,toxic mangoes? Citizens of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra have decided to revive their agitation against the Rs 700-crore copper smelting factory of Sterlite Industries India Ltd in the district. Last August, local environmentalists had formed the Ratnagiri Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, which campaigned against the unit located at Zadgaon, protesting that its operations would entail the emission of large quantities of toxic sulphur dioxide gas. The agitation was suspended after state chief minister Sharad Pawar ordered suspension of work on the plant pending an environment impact analysis (EIA) to be carried out by the state pollution control authorities (Down To Earth, September 30, 1993).

But the agitation is now being revived because though the EIA report was submitted to Pawar in mid-January, he has refused to make it public. Says Samiti president Khetan Nag, "We shall force the chief minister to reveal what the report has to say about the impact of the Sterlite unit's emissions on human and plant life in the district. After all, the enquiry was established only as a result of our actions in the past."

The Samiti's activists have been further angered by rumours that Sterlite plans to use a supposedly favourable report prepared by a private environmental consultancy firm to go ahead and commission the plant. In response, the Samiti has enlisted the services of environmentalist Rashmi Mayur to coordinate what Nag calls an "independent and open" estimate of the sulphur dioxide emissions to be expected from the plant and its effects. The Samiti is also receiving vigorous support from cultivators of the alphonso mango, native to this region. The mango farmers fear the toxic gas will disastrously affect the flowering of this year's crop. Interestingly, Mayur is an alphonso aficionado as well.

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