When we opened the pages of the Indian Express in the morning of June 29,1989, a bitter surprise was in store for us although now-a-days journalistic principles are not strictly followed and any thing that come in the way are published in an irresponsible way without caring for the consequences or the impressions that are sure to create in the minds of the people in a country like India where different linguistic and religious groups are in existence.
The report under heading “Thirsty Ambur Suffers Silently” surprised us very much and also hurt our feelings beyond expression. It is not that articles on the effluent problem of North Arcot district were not published before.
The ‘hurting’ was for the tone and tenor of the report and the bitter surprise was for the fact that the Indian express which proclaims itself to be a truly national newspaper has thought it advisable to publish the insulting report under reference, which, to any person who reads it cannot be anything but a bundle of distortions and reflection of communal and narrow-mindedness of its reporter. The reporter may be a communal fellow, unfit to the present world but his blunder of writing it is not as serious as the sin of the Indian Express publishing it.
While as a matter of fact it was only an exaggerated and one-sided version, the fact is that there was no question of pollution when tanners were engaged in the production of E.I. Vegetable tanned hides and skins with very little or without use of chemicals. The dried effluent and other wastes were even used as manure by farmers. It was only after the introduction of new policy as recommended by Dr. Seetharamiah Committee, stressing the need to switch over to the production of finished leathers that the question of effluent and pollution arose. The tanners started producing finished leathers, mostly by the compulsion of the government about some 14 years ago and pollution is only a recent phenomenon.
No industrial development is possible without some sort of pollution. Even in advanced countries like Italy the effluent problem has not been solved. Pollution is not confined to the leather industry alone. The sago industry in salem and the chemicals industry in Mettur cause pollution hazards.
I must say that some tanneries have already constructed their effluent tanks with huge investments in Ambur, Vaniyambadi and Ranipet. The work for a common effluent treatment plant is also started in Vaniyambadi. The pity is that although a low-cost effluent treatment method has been suggested by the CLRI, it is not practicable. Small tanners are finding it absolutely impossible to have their own independent tank unless some financial support is extended by the government.
Willy-nilly the fact is that unless the government and the CLRI come forward with some clear-cut methods and financial assistance, the problem cannot be fully solved. There is also the risk of the effluent tanks, constructed with heavy investments, being disapproved by the concerned authorities as it happened in the case of a big tanner in Ranipet some years ago.
It should also be clear that even government tanneries including the one at Vinnamangalam near Ambur have not constructed the effluent tanks. Therefore private tanners alone cannot be blamed for the effluent problem.
They realize their responsibility well and that is why many big tanneries have already constructed their effluent tanks and small ones are jointly constructing a common plant in Vaniyambadi as said earlier and those small tanners whose tanneries are isolated and whose effluent cannot be treated in the proposed common plant are in a fix and trying their best to have their own small ones, if some method is available, particularly at the present time when they are endeavouring for their survival.
As far as the problem of drinking water is concerned, it is provided to the citizens of Ambur by the Municipality by erecting tanks and taps in different locations in Ambur. The tanners have financially helped for these projects. I do not agree with the contention that the tannery effluents are alone the cause for the present situation. The fact is that there is no flow of water in the palar river. Whenever it has water flowing for a week or so the position of water in Ambur and nearby places becomes better. Where is not water scarcity? There are also pollution problems in most of the places.
I wonder why the Municipality of Ambur has not still taken a decision to provide drinking water to every house and street particularly when it has elected representatives now. They should try to pass a resolution to this effect in the Council meeting and do the needful before it is too late. The Panchayat Raj system is also in the making now. The Municipality of Ambur should seek financial assistance for this purpose from whichever source it is available.
It is also said in the report that drinking water is provided in Ambur only once in nine days which is not correct at all. I understand that it is supplied in alternate days and sometimes even daily. I have already sent a telegram to Mr. Swami, the Chairman of Ambur Municipality to issue a statement to the press in clarification of the serious charges made in the report. I hope that they will do the needful in this regard.
The reporter has not done justice in reporting the views of a social worker alone without giving importance to the views of any tanner or leather association.
There are many insulting remarks against the Muslim community in the report which is clear to all those who have read it. I want to say only that Islam is for educational and other advancement. But certainly it is against unwanted exposure of ones beauty in an obscene way. Progress is the need of the hour. Everyone has to try for betterment in status. If the Muslim women become educationally and otherwise modern, it should be welcomed. Actually they are trying to uphold their dignity given to them in Islam and traditionally followed. The remarks of the reporter in the Indian Express against the Muslim community are baseless, unwarranted and derogatory to which we take strong exception. It seems that he has written the report under the influence of some sheer Hindu communalists.
(VMK in Radiance dated 30 July -5 August 1989)