Of being soft on the PSUs

It is not usual for newspapers to be partial in giving publicity to public sector units. This is on the ground that they are public funded entities and often function in public interest. However, should Government and the media be partial when it comes to the PSUs breaking laws of the land?

Effluents being let out into sea by TTP in
          TrivandrumThere are many instances of such partisan treatment of PSUs in Kerala and elsewhere in the country. For instance, the Travancore Titanium Products (TTP) in Thiruvananthapuram has been polluting the Arabian Sea for years now. Though even closure of the unit had been ordered on this count, the Government has always come to its rescue. What the unit lets out into the sea are dilute sulphuric acid, iron sulphate and other pollutants that render the inshore areas a dead sea. The neighbouring English India Clays, which caused relatively less pollution from mining of clay, faced sterner measures.

Though the media did report on the pollution caused by TTP once in a while, that never compared with the media barrage against Grasim Industries that polluted the Chaliyar River. (This is not to say that the Grasim issue did not merit the publicity. The issue warranted the attention it got from the media.)

In Kochi, the private company Merchem, manufacturing rubber chemicals and pesticides, had to close down. However, PSUs such as Hindusthan Insecticides, Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore and Indian Rare Earths continued to pollute the environment. The Periyar is today highly polluted with heavy metals and radioactive materials and other hazardous chemicals. (The Supreme Court is now monitoring the situation.)

Endosulfan victimA more pronounced case of media’s partiality is that of the Coca-Cola and Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK). The Coca-Cola unit at Plachimada in Palakkad district polluted the land by allowing sludge containing cadmium to be used as fertilizer in the locality. There are no reports yet of serious direct injury. Yet the issue got international attention. This was partly on account of its status as multi-national with presence in many countries rather than the severity of pollution. On the other hand, the PCK, which poisoned land and water by aerial spraying of the organochlorine insecticide endosulfan for 25 years across 15 villages, got less media-space. The company is accused of causing direct injury to hundreds of people. The Health Department of Kerala has identified more than 3000 people in the villages with various kinds of abnormalities and disease conditions known to be caused by endosulfan. (The actual number of victims is much higher than this as problems related to the reproductive system are under-reported). Yet, neither the company nor the Government has attempted any clean up operations.

What is at stake here is the principle that everybody is equal before the law even if it is a Government company and its officials. At the same time, it cannot be forgotten that several private companies, who spent crores in advertising, manage to push their misdeeds under carpet using their clout with media. Some PSUs like the public sector banks too have started taking a leaf out of the private sector -- all the more a reason not to be partial to PSUs.

Expert-Eyes / December 2005 (No. of victims updated in 2011)

Related links:

Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes
A toxic hot spot in Kerala-- Frontline report on TTP
Closure order issued to Merchem
Panel recommends closure of HIL
Coca-Cola's 'toxic' India fertilizer
Endosulfan-- the Kerala Story   download (13MB)

Comment from Sridhar,  Thanal.org

Endosulfan victimI am much reminded of the Hindustan Newsprint Limited factory at Velloor as well, for their heavy pollution. Hundreds of acres of land have been contaminated with their sludge, possibly contaminated with dioxins, as they used to bleach with chlorine and chlorine compounds. Same is the case with KMML, which escapes attention due to their better public interactions and promotional activities in the locality.

But HNL is a big case, because they produce newsprint much needed for the print media and media apathy towards news from this factory is stark and felt by the local population. Many people, whom I have talked to during my research, complained of lack of coverage of the issue.

The article is good, and raises a serious issue.

Sridhar <admin(at)thanal.org>

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