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Known the world over for its textile production and processing,Erode district is witnessing an alarming number of cancer cases due to drinking water contamination from the deadly chemical discharge by various factory units into Kalaingarayan canal.
“Erode district is one of the worst hit cancer districts in Tamil Nadu and as on date,within just 18 months of starting the IICG cancer hospital,1,320 cancer cases were examined in Erode alone,” says Dr P Suthahar,consultant radiologist at the hospital.
He said 35 to 40 per cent of those examined had liver and bladder cancer,a clear indication that it was due to consumption of water contaminated with dyes and chemicals.
The hospital is now conducting regular camps all over the district to make people aware on the need to go for proper early diagnosis and treatment.
“Everyday,a new case comes to the hospital,” he said.
Authorities at a private hospital,run by a private trust say that doctors there have treated an increasing number of cancer cases,while those at the government headquarters hospital,unwilling to be quoted,admit that they are hampered by lack of an Oncologist or adequate facilities. All cases in Erode were being referred to government hospitals in Chennai or Kancheepuram,they said.
Dr V Jeevanandam,Chairman of the cancer hospital in Erode says that thousands of people,mostly poor farmers,have been affected due to the discharge of effluents.
Farmers associations in affected villages in the district have a number of complaints against the units and the “inaction” by those concerned to check discharge of effluents into the river. There are about 540 textile units in the organised sector and about 400 small and tiny units in the unorganised sector.
The Secretary of Tamilaga Vivasayeegal Sangam T Subbu says that more than 10 textile unit SIPCOT industrial growth centre at Perundurai alone have been letting out harmful effluents into drains in six or seven villages,badly affecting the ground water.
A leading farmer V M Velayuthan alleged that farmers have incurred production loss of more than Rs 1,000 crore in the last seven years,as water from the canal could not be used for irrigation. “Our cattle have become sick and many women have turned infertile,” he said.
He claimed that the associations had even approached the Madras High Court for a remedy which had on July 14,2007 directed the units to set up ‘Zero discharge plants.’ Despite this the units were brazenly letting out effluents,he said.
Another aged farmer E R Kumaraswamy said a team of experts from the Environment Ministry had visited the area and collected water samples and also tannery waste piled up on the banks of the canal. However no action had been taken till now.
He claimed that Union Minister of state for Social Justice and Women Empowerment,Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan had written to the Centre on the plight of farmers,asking for action to be taken against polluting units.
Pollution Control Board personnel on their part maintained that they were taking stringent action against polluting units and that 500 units had been sealed for violation of pollution control rules. They also said action was being taken against those who have not set up reverse osmosis plants.
Officials,including the District Collector,District Revenue Officer and the Pollution Control Board District Engineer,when contacted,were unwilling to comment on the issue.
Reacting to the reports,R S Natarasa Mudaliar,President Erode Handloom Cloth Merchants Association said “for erection of reverse osmosis plant,banks should provide long-term loans with a low rate of interest. Of late,most textile printers are doing ‘job work’ by collecting the cloth from merchants,printing them…obtaining only the charges for the work,earning a meagre amount.’
He said the association was insisting that all textile printers abide by Pollution Control Board rules and set up treatment plants.
The income from the textile printing industry had started decreasing. “Under such circumstances we cannot erect reverse osmosis plants,which cost around Rs 10 lakh. So it has forced some textile printers to discharge effluents into drains and canals. We are very much aware it is injurious,” Thangavelu,a textile printer of Erode,said.