The Tamil Nadu government is planning to reopen all the polluting tanneries of the state, despite the Supreme Court (SC) ordering for their closure. The state labour minister, Anwar Raja, recently announced that efforts are being made to open all the tanneries as they have installed common effluent treatment plants as directed by the SC (see 'Tanned Order', Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 23, April 30, 2001).
The Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum and the Consumers Protection Council, both based in the worst affected Vellore district, have criticised the government's plan. P S Subramanian of the Vellore Citizen's Forum says: "In the first place, the SC order was partially implemented. Out of more than 3,000 big, medium and small sized tanneries, only 142 were closed. In such a situation, the government's plan if implemented would add to our problems." The forum members allege that the labour minister is also misleading the state legislative assembly by stating that the green bench of the Madras high court has allowed 396 tanneries to operate. The fact is that all the tanneries had been asked to close down. "The assembly would be liable for contempt of the apex court's order if it takes any decision for reopening the tanneries," said members of the Vellore Citizen's Forum.
In 1996, in the wake of health problems caused due to the pollution resulting from the tanneries' operation, the SC had ordered the leather industry to install common effluent treatment plants or face closure. It constituted a Loss of Ecology Authority Cell to assess the damage caused due to the pollution. The apex court had also asked the tanneries to pay compensation to the affected people. But even after almost five years, the cell has not assessed the damage in Trichy, Dindigul and Erode districts and most of the tanneries are yet to pay the compensation.
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