Even as opposition to Tata Steel’s proposed Rs 2,500-crore titanium dioxide plant in Tuticorin and neighbouring Tirunelveli districts in Tamil Nadu grew strident, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on Monday put on hold the project, announcing he would take a decision only after getting public opinion on the issue.
However, Karunanidhi in a statement accused “certain people” of trying to give an impression that the public was against the project, “which was only meant to develop the two backward districts of Tuticorin and Tirunelveli in the south”. He said some ministers and senior officials would be deputed to the areas concerned to garner public opinion, that too in the presence of mediapersons.
While Tata Steel had singed an MoU with the Jayalalithaa regime in 2002 for a techno-economic feasibility study for setting up the project using mineral sands in the two districts, the company gave up the project reportedly after facing difficulties in land acquisition. The DMK Government revived the MoU on June 28 this year, assuring Tata Steel all help in acquiring land.
Meanwhile, residents of more than 50 villages, activists and politicians protested, threatening fasts and agitations “to fight Tata’s entry tooth and nail”.
Backtracking in the face of opposition, Karunanidhi said he would take a decision on the project based on report submitted by a team of ministers and officials. He regretted that “efforts were being made to create an impression that the Government was acting in favour of the Tata Group”.
AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa had accused the Government of “depriving thousands of farmers of their livelihood” and causing “irreparable damage to ecology and environment,” by reviving the MoU with Tata Steel.
She said her Government rejected the project “despite enormous pressure from the Tatas and senior bureaucrats” as she believed that the project would harm the interests of more than 20,000 poor farmers besides causing damage to the environment. She also accused the DMK Government of “striking a deal” with the company.
Refuting Jayalalithaa’s allegations, Karunanidhi said the “real reason” that she had shelved the project was that “she had struck an unwritten deal with one particular goon who is illegally mining and exporting garnet from the area and making crores of rupees”.
That person also happened to be a shareholder in Jaya TV, he alleged.
Several organisations, including the Then Mavatta Theri Nila Paathugaapu Sangam (Federation for Protection of Coastal Land in Southern Districts) and the Consumer Protection Forum of Sattankumal, have expressed apprehensions about the project particularly in view of the fact that huge amounts of land would need to be acquired displacing at least a lakh families spread across 50 villages.
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