Workers’ death in West Godavari industry: Civil society team had warned of high pollution levels

deadAbout 50 senior activists associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), including Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan), Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh  (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information), Prafulla Samantara (Lok Shakti Abhiyan), Lingraj Azad (Samajwadi Jan Parishad – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti), Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party), among others, have said that the Andhra Pradesh government and Ananda Industries are jointly answerable for criminal negligence and environmental violations leading to the death of five workers in West Godavari, demanding registration of FIR, cancellation of license, closure of industry and compensation to the bereaved families. Text of the statement:

National Alliance of People’s Movements expresses shock and outrage at the tragic death of five daily-wage workers on March 30, while cleaning a chemical tank inside the Ananda Aqua Food Processing Unit in Nallamavari Thota village of Mogaltur Mandal (West Godavari). The incident reportedly caused due to leakage of ammonia from the adjacent chamber, leading to instant death of all the five poor workers. NAPM, at the very outset condemns these unavoidable deaths and holds the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh and the Ananda Industries liable for criminal negligence and environmental violations leading to the incident.

Notably, a fact finding team comprising of Ramakrishnam Raju and Meera Sanghamitra  (National Convenors, NAPM), Vimala Morthala (Activist and Writer), Babji (Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union), Rajesh and Rohit (Human Rights Forum) and Rahul (Freelance Journalist) visited Nallammavari Thota on the 25th of March 2017 to assess the pollution levels caused by Ananda Exports Pvt. Ltd. in the wake of people’s complaints and similar factory owned by the same group, coming up very close by in Tunduru village of Bhimavaram Mandal.

The fact finding team learnt from the locals that the industry, which was built in 2012, used to release foul smell since its inception. The villagers of Nallammavari Thota also informed the fact finding team that one-sixth of the people (10 families out of 60 families) left the village in the last one year because of the pungent stench and some of them even sold off their lands. Youngsters, whom this team interacted with felt that they have no other option except to leave the village if the Govt. didn’t intervene and do something to salvage the situation.

The villagers of Nallammavari Thota signed a petition against the factory a month ago which forced the Sub-Collector to visit the village and give a warning to the management of the factory to construct wastage tanks. However, the villagers allege that the management was hand in glove with the political class, because of which neither they nor the Sub-Collector couldn’t do anything and the company got away with cosmetic measures.

It is this gross negligence that has led to the death of Eega Yedukondalu, Nalla Yedukondalu, Boddu Rambabu, Thota Srinu and Jakkamsetty Praveen, all daily wage workers and residents of Nallamavari Thota village. In the wake of the deaths in the factory today, we believe such an incident is a direct consequence of non-compliance of prescribed regulations as per the mandate of the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 and other rules.

The factory, in a bid to maximize the profits is not recycling the waste and instead dumping it into the Gontheru Canal, which is livelihood for 50,000 fisher people and another 50,000 acres of farm land and fish tanks is likely to be polluted. We also think that the inadequate and weak monitoring by regulators such as the Pollution Control Board and the Labour Inspectors grants impunity to companies to get away with routine violations, which can even get fatal.

It appears prima facie that the Govt. of AP and the Ananda Group of Industries are to be held responsible for the environmental degradation and air-water pollution in the region. The laws of the land and Orders of the Supreme Court have already recognized the right to a safe and healthy environment as integral to the fundamental right to life of people under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Ananda Group of Industries, which enjoys support of the political class of the state, also owns and operates 8 other industries in the region. Their proposal and persistence to go ahead with the Mega Aqua Food Park in Tundurru, which is said to be 20 times more harmful than the existing factories, despite massive public resistance is indicative of the clout that the company wields in this region.

In the light of this situation, we put forth the following demands:

  • Govt. of AP and the Ananda Group of Industries appear to be responsible prima facie for criminal negligence and environmental violations leading to the (avoidable) death of the five workers today. In it therefore necessary to immediately institute a judicial inquiry with a sitting judge of the High Court into this incident.
  • Apart from this factory, Ananda Group of Industries owns and operates 8 other factories in the region. We demand that the Govt. should set up an independent expert committee comprising of environmentalists, academicians, activists, legal scholars and bureaucrats to assess the pollution levels in all these factories as well as the pollution caused by the factory to the external atmosphere, such as the contamination of ground and surface water, impact on agriculture, bio-diversity, loss of fertility in lands, health impacts, foul smell being generated and the waste being disposed off into Gontheru canal. The factories belonging to Ananda Group of Industries should be closed till this independent committee submits their reports and a final decision should be taken thereafter.
  • Cancel the license of the Ananda Group of Industries and initiate a criminal prosecution by registering an FIR against the Company MD and the incharge officer under appropriate provisions of penal law. IPC. We also demand revocation of the clearance by PCB and action against PCB officials who issued the clearance.
  • Scrap the Mega Aqua Food Park in Tundurru, which has the potential to cause enormous and irreversible damage to the Gontheru canal, lifeline of more than 2 lakh people in the region.
  • Parts of Bhimavaram and Narsapur mandals where resistance to the Mega Aqua Food Park is thriving are clamped with Section 144 which is against the fundamental expression of freedom of the people. The villagers are protesting against the factory and are demanding an inquiry into the whole incident. We have also learnt that more than 1000 policemen have surrounded the villages and are forcing the villagers to give up on the protest. Police force from these areas must be immediately withdrawn, Sec 144 must be revoked and the Govt. must initiate a peaceful, unconditional dialogue with the people.
  • State Govt. must give a Government job to a family member of each of the deceased; take care of the educational expenses of the children of the deceased and immediate disbursal of the promised compensation of Rs. 25 lakhs to the family members of each of the deceased.

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