Tata’s ‘Titanic’ Bulldozer in Southern Tamil Nadu

- V Shankar

Tata’s Titanium project in Tamil Nadu has evoked unprecedented protests from the people of 10000 acres of land earmarked in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts. Several parties of both camps, the main opposition AIADMK, and also the ruling coalition partners are up in arms. The Chief Minister had no other option but to temporarily shelve the project until an eyewash exercise of ‘eliciting’ public opinion was over. The project conceived by the DMK government was carried forward by the subsequent ADMK government. MOU was also signed. But, the final nod was not given in the face of stiff resistance from the people and also because of Jayalalitha’s closeness to VV.Minerals that engaged in illegal mining operations. The shelved project has now been revived. In spite of continuing war of attrition, both DMK and ADMK are not hesitant to display their loyalty towards Tatas and Colas.

The much bloated opposition from the DMK’s coalition partners lacks any sharpness. They have not done anything substantial to stall the project. It’s obvious when they suggest the same to be run by the government. For them, it is not a matter of principle whether to have a Titanium project that is environmentally hazardous and is bound to affect the livelihood of tens of thousands of people; it is only a matter of ‘eliciting opinions’ and ‘scoring points’ over the other. CPI has contained itself by demanding government take-over while the CPM is not demanding anything more than a debate in the assembly.
The Tata management is adamant to go ahead with the project. Only four states, Kerala, Andhra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu are suitable for the project. Orissa is already into a controversy with Kalinganagar and POSCO. Andhra land grab has already taken peoples lives. In Kerala, one plant is already run by a PSU which is at the verge of sickness. Only Tamil Nadu has a favourable political climate, as on date. This is the attraction for Tatas. But, their miscalculation is the scale of protest from the people of relatively backward region.

Another casualty in the drama of ‘eliciting’ public opinion is the worst impact of the project on the environment that would endanger not only agriculture, plants and species but also the livelihood of thousands of people. The government is going ahead in spite of caution by the Tuticorin district collector and the TNPCB.

The Tata Steels have entered into a MOU with the government in June to establish a 2500-crore Titanium Dioxide Plant in the state. The project is to provide employment for 1000 people directly and 3000 indirectly.

The project is to cover seven panchayats, 47 villages and more than 20000 families. Most of them may possibly be displaced once the facility is in place. The company has sought permission to mine at a depth of 6 to 9 meters in more than 10000 acres of land. Around 7500 acres are said to be owned by 8929 individuals. The government is to procure and hand over lands to the Tatas. The land price fixed by the government is Rs.40000 – 50000 per acre while the people expect few lakhs.

The corporate land grab is only one part of the story. Worst is the accompanying drought, water scarcity, unemployment, etc. There are many parallels in the world. DuPont closed a Titanium Dioxide plant at Oakley, California in 1997. Then, it was discovered that soil and ground water was contaminated to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Millions worth law suits are pending in US courts against DuPont that produced ‘dirty’ Dioxin pollution. The Dioxins are deadly and can pollute air, soil and water. Main problem of Kerala PSU producing Titanium Dioxide is the problem of establishing an effluent plant that is highly expensive. Kerala people have been fighting against the untreated toxic pollutants being released by the company.

Dioxide plants are discouraged in the West and are being shifted to the East. DuPont has already shifted many of its operations to the Latin American and Asian countries. One need not be surprised if it had any stakes as a ‘technology provider’ in the Tata’s project.

Karunanidhi has come up with a theoretical framework to defend not only the Tatas but the class of capitalists by resorting to the Amartya Sen’s argument that the GDP would not fall due to abandoning of agriculture. Karunanithi says that ‘those creating a crisis for industrialists and preventing them from buying lands were ignoring people’s interests’. May be, Karunanidhi is more crude than Sens and Buddhadevs. Karunanidhi’s class nature has come out in flying colours in the above statement. Relatively backward southern districts Tirunelveli and Tuticorin are being treated as dumping yard of ‘dirty’ industries. Koodankulam Atomic plant is already threatening the region. People of 50 km radius of Koodankulam have already been notified to be evacuated at anytime. Now, it is the turn of Titanium Dioxide. Human beings in the region are being treated worse than laboratory animals. Globalisation has not brought any prosperity to the people but it has definitely brought in death and destruction. Tata’s Titanium Dioxide Project is a killer industry that should be opposed. But, the perspective of the opposition is also crucial. Comparatively, in this case, land grab comes next only to the loss of livelihood and imminent destruction.