New Delhi: Activists and environmentalists fear that pollution which has been the scourge of Tuticorin city for decades may have taken a turn for the worse. Recently, Tuticorin stood 21st in a list of 94 polluted cities in the country identified by Central Pollution Control Board based on a five-year study ending in 2015. It was also the only city from the state on the list.
With heavy industries and thermal power stations mushrooming in the coastal city, many people working in the factories here prefer to reside in nearby Tirunelveli and spend hours shuttling to and from Tuticorin. Environmentalist M Krishnamurthi, who is among the prominent leaders spearheading the anti-Sterlite protests, expressed the need for a holistic study on the impact of environmental pollution in Tuticorin. “Most of the thermal power stations in the state are within a 14 km radius from the city centre. The extent of damage caused by industrialisation is immeasurable,” he lamented. Krishnamurthi observed that thermal power plants and industries in and around the city had caused immense damage to people’s health, natural resources, environment and salt pans. “Polluting industries should be closed down or shifted at the earliest,” he said.
Activist Nithyanand Jayaram suggested a three-stage approach to reduce the impact of air pollution. “Pollution becomes an issue when it is affecting the people. Industries should not be set up close to a place where there are residential localities or agriculture is taking place,” he said. Safety measures should be carried out after sighting the right place to reduce the impact of unavoidable effects. “It is no use carrying out safety measures after establishing a hazardous industry established in a thickly populated place,” he said. According to him next comes pollution control.
Stating that no industry could operate without polluting, he said that the problem worsened with the size of the factory. Controlling the chemical substances from being dispensed in the air and effectively converting them into usable by-products in another form (liquid or solid) was the next big step. “Pollution mitigation is the next stage. Despite all measures some particles will be discharged in the air. Industries should ensure that its effect is minimized. Shape of the chimney should be such that the suspended particles are dissolved and become harmless when they reaches the ground,” he said. He expressed the need for a thick green belt around the factory to filter them from affecting the common man.
District collector N Venkatesh said that the district administration was working on a project to improve the green cover to bring down the impact of air pollution. “Also this year we have a target of 2.7 lakh trees to be planted across the district. Most of these saplings will be planted on government and waste land near industries and urban areas,” he added.
Government and private thermal power plants in the city accounted for a major share of its visible air pollution. Vishnu Mohan Rao, an expert on environment and power associated with a citizen consumer and civic action group said that the ministry of environment and forests had issued a notification to all thermal power plants to take measures to bring down emission to a large extent by 2022.
“One of the effective measures is installation of ‘flue gas desulphurisation’ in the plants. This method of absorbing sulphur and other chemical pollutants from getting discharged into the air is in implementation for close to 40 years. But not one thermal plant in India has it as it would cost Rs 300 crore to install it in a plant,” he said and added that the cost could go up based on the capacity of the plant.
He added that flue gas method also required a sizable share of energy generated by the plant to be operated. The expert also pressed for larger regional impact assessment to be conducted before establishing such plants as a futuristic solution. According to him, there was a need to monitor compliance by existing plants to check pollution as a solution to keep air pollution by thermal plants under check.
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