A shredded project

A shredded project IN A significant development, Goa"s environmentalists recently tasted success when the giant multinational linked DuPont chemical project opted to move out of the state following repeated protests. In the bargain, the lesson they learnt was that all differences have to be put aside and that politicians are undependable for green campaigns.

After years of controversy and protests, the Nylon 6,6 project - jointly promoted by the chemical giants DuPont, the Thapars group of India and Mitsui of Japan - recently decided to quit Goa and shift to Tamil Nadu.

Politicians and officials who had claimed that this would become Goa"s single largest industrial venture, and had sought to push through the project despite opposition, were left embarassed. Environmentalists, flushed with success, vowed to search for more eco-friendly ways of using the sprawling project site.

Some of the environmentalists here quickly faxed and couriered detailed information about the project to their counterparts in Tamil Nadu. A Goa Assembly House Committee which studied the project, came out with a voluminous report later reprinted as a book called Unwanted Guests: Goans v1s DuPont.

Legislators studying the issue charged that the project was badly sited (4 km from the Opa waterworks and the Mandovi river). Chemicals would have to be carted through a narrow and precariously winding road through farmlands; the water catchment area was being destroyed by blasting; tubewells for the Nylon 6,6 project, drawing water "illegally" had caused a serious shortage in the residential valley during summer, and an area of 6 ha were"affected by clearance of nitural vegetation. Prime agricultural land (including paddy fields) were being "converted" to be shown as a "paddy field test farm", access for neighbouring villagers to the area r cattle grazing was slashed and the area fenced off. Besides, there were other I&AL ad@_us charges against the Nylon 6,6project. Communidades (the locil land-control ling cooprative village institutions with restricted membership) were manipulated,,qnd post-holders were summarily repted by the state government there by allowing promoters to have the 123 lia site. Resolutions opposing the pliant @passed by 5 local village lpancha@at@ was used as a reminder to the ruling Congress (i), which just then, was stressing the importance of panchayati raj.

State-run financial institutions had been "used" to get permissions for the proj ect by passing it on as a joint venture, charged the legislators, panel probing the issue. Some of the mega project"s opponents saw it as an attempt to dump phased-out technology in India. The suspicion was strengthened when DuPont officials, who voluntarily subjected themselves to a cross questioning session v4@,th opponents way back in mid-"90, "Agued that "some machinery" is being related in India for the Nylon 6,6 p4nt,4ce in the us most production shifting to radial tyres, using steel or newer DuPont products.

DuPont promised to build "their safest nylon plant in the world" at Goa. But critics pointed to a Friends of the Earth -Netherlands report alleging the company to be one of the major global polluters.

Devika Sequeira, a journalist who has been following the issue since 1990, argues that the pollution aspect was never the main issue. More important was the "irregularities" resorted to by successive state governments in approving the project which was awaiting clearance by the Centre, by using state financial institutions as a "front" to acquire permission for the plant, and acquiring land "contrary to all regulations", says Sequeira.

The DuPont plant at Goa planned to make Nylon 6,6 which the company says is technically superior to Nylon 6, and has strategic usage in aircraft tyres, heavy duty truck tyres, high performance car tyres, high temperature belting and tyres for defence and regular vehicles. In the central Goa town of Ponda, 10 km from the site, opponents of the plant met recently to assess the extent of success in edging out the giant chemical factory. In the meeting, Nilesh Naik, the 25-year old son of a local villager, who was killed during a protest demonstration earned the sobriquet of becoming Goa"s "first environmental martyr". 0 "There should be no other Thapar-DuPont project on the Goan soil," said an angry resolution passed by environmentalist groups spearheading the movement.

It was pointed out that the land for the plant had been grabbed from the villagers" common lands and sold to the factory promoters at a nominal rate. It cost the company more to build a wall to fence off the land.

"Besides Greenpeace, we wrote to various human rights bodies. We also got out crucial information from the us- based voluntary group - the International Toxics Campaign," says Krishnatreya Duttatreya Sadhale, an architect and anti-DuPont campaign leader, explaining how this campaign managed to clinch a victory.

Goa, the, tiniest state of India, but perhaps one .of the most environmentally conscious state, has been battling a number of issues in the recent years - from the Konkan Railway route, to gross violations by luxury hotels -along the state"s coast, ravages of rampant open-cast mining in the state, real estate speculation leading to urban open spaces being bulldozel and fields buried, and sand-extraction along the beaches. But while success has largely eluded all these projects, the Nylon 6,6 plant was the first one regarding which environmental groups and affected villagers managed to attain their I -point programme.

But the campaign proved to be a difficult one to be steered. For instance, at one stage, the Goa government attempted to arrest anti-Nylon 6,6 campaign leaders under the dreaded Terrorist and Disruptive Activities law. One of the leaders, a young doctor called Dattaram Desai, was stripped naked by the police, infuriating the campaigners further.

This campaign, say its leaders, sent out the missive to the state government that it cannot just bring in any controversial project without the public okaying it. Similarly, industrialists too, had got the message that they should not try dubious methods to "convince" politicians to indiscriminately push through their projects.

Keri, the would-havqbeen project Jsite, is a predominantly Hindu area. But during the campaign the protectors got support not just from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but also from the Catholic Church. Of all the various environmental protests in tte state, this saw the greatest degree cohesion among w4f@" plans by majority, Hindu and minority Cat@Olic Politiicians. Unlike the recent clause into Konkan Railway issue, project, attempts by politicians which the and others to communalise this issue did not click.

It is a fact that the liability in c@mpaign against the damage Nylon 6,6 project did get a big fillip because the plant had some other influential business opponents within the country. Promoters of a rival yarn were allegedly opposed to the plant"s coming up since it could"cut into the "ir market. Because of this" apparently there was a tremendous outflow of facts and figures about the Nylon 6,6 project which would have otherwise been missing in any other protest movement.

Unlike other campaigns, where citizens, are badly hamstrung by lack of information from the government or corporations, very detailed material was widely floating around giving an inside picture into the planned Nylon 6,6 project. Leaks which surfaced, included an internal E-mail message written by DuPont in the us to its Indian joint venture, stressing the former"s concern over the plans to dilute safety precautions.

One story which created a stink when it surfaced, was plans by the us- based DuPont group to write a clause into the project, under which the foreign multinational would have no liability in case of any damage or disaster.

Such an issue makes it essential for everyone to know the details of what is involved, argues environmentalist Claude Alvares, reacting to the decision to shift the plant to Tamil Nadu. He expresses concern that there the project promoters might be able to get away with its controversial plans, feigning to promote employment.

Moreover, another reality which comlYlicated the setting up of the plant in Goa was the manner in which the decision was taken. The decision making process had allegedly turned extremely corruption-prone and Introversial.

The discredited former Goa industries minister, Suresh Parulekar, who stink was made headlines while try the US- ing to sell large tracts of land to the infamous write in a Memons - the main sus the pects in the Bombay blasts under - himself played a cat foreign and-mouse game with Nyfon 6,6. He angrily warned of scrapping the no project which he was case of shielding staunchly for or disaster long, confidently claiming that it would be "non-polluting".

Goa"s opposition party also besmirched its reputation, with leader of the opposition Kashinath Jalmi turning into an active supporter of the plant after having opposed it earlier. He went on to argue that his opposition earlier had come about "on different ground".

On their part, the plant"s promoters only earned mistrust by the manner in which they went about trying to assuage public opinion,, At one point, the Goa football league was taken over and and its name was changed, when Thapar- DuPont offered a sponsorship of a few lakh of rupees. Traditional Brahmin priests in the predominantly Hindu villages around the plant site charged that the promoters sought to win them over by asking them to undertake a several- day-long ritual costing thousands of rupees which the promoters would sponsor. The state government"s Department of Information officials also alleged that journalists who had been taken to New Delhi for parleying on the issue, were attempted to be wooed by the public-relations firm of DuPont promoters.

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