Condemning Unilever for practising double standards, leaders from three prominent political parties urged the State Government to ensure that Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board insisted on a clean-up that takes into account the well-being of the watershed forests, wildlife and downstream water and fish consumers. G. Ramakrishnan, state Secretary, CPI(M), D. Ravikumar, General Secretary ViduthalaiChiruthaigalKatchi (VCK), and MallaiSathya, deputy General Secretary of MarumalarchiDravidaMunnetraKazhagam addressed the press conference.
Pointing out that the factory is located in an ecologically sensitive area within the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary, the leaders said Unilever’s choice of a relaxed residential standard is unacceptable. Even going by residential standards, Unilever’s proposal for India — of 20-25 mg mercury in a kg of soil — is 20 to 25 times weaker than the residential soil standards in the United Kingdom where the company is headquartered.
The leaders demanded a clean-up standard that approaches naturally occurring background levels of 0.1 mg/kg. Unilever has been allowed to set up in a pristine setting where naturally occurring background levels are no higher than 0.1 mg/kg. They should be forced to restore the soil to this level or approaching it.
Citing a June 2015 study that had found toxic mercury leaking from the factory into the nearby Pambar Shola watershed forests, the leaders said TNPCB should prosecute the company and its management for continued poisoning of Tamil Nadu’s forests and waterways. Additionally, the company must also be asked to pay a penalty to the Forest Department for having discharged mercury into the Pambar Shola forests. In 2002, the company admitted that it had discharged 1.3 tonnes of mercury into the watershed forests. This mercury — discharged as vapour and spread throughout the forest — is not recoverable, but can build up in the environment to harm wildlife and potentially human beings.
The political leaders also asked the Government to extend a helping hand to workers’ families, many of whom are in very bad condition because of ill-health and financial difficulties.The party representatives said they were keenly watching the developments on this front, and would continue to agitate until Unilever cleans up the factory site, and compensates workers and affected parties to everybody’s satisfaction. The press conference was organised by Chennai Solidarity Group and PoovulaginNanbargal.
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