Every move by the Government in Tamil Nadu is extremely politicised. The weakening of the ruling party DMK has caused this.
In particular, the Government faces vocal and mostly meaningless criticism from its partners and supporters - PMK and the communists.
The job of these two parties is not offering constructive solutions. They merely instigate local people, issue statements condemning the government move, and eventually force the government to backtrack on such projects. The (Chennai) satellite township project and the (Chennai) airport expansion project both have been killed because of such intransigent behaviour on their part.
The latest in this series is Tata's attempt at setting up a Titanium Di-oxide plant in southern Tamil Nadu, in Sathankulam in Tuticorin (Thuththukkudi) district.
Titanium Di-oxide is used as a pigment in paints and coatings to provide the white colour. It is used in antimicrobial coatings because of its disinfectant characterestics. Being a light and strong metal its alloys can be used in various engineering constructions and biomechanics.
Large titanium deposits are available in Sathankulam in the form of its ore ilmenite. It has not however been exploited so far. No company has put forward a sensible proposal to mine the ore and convert it into a value added product. Some limited mining rights have been given to few companies and they are known to be exporting the ore.
During the last AIADMK regime, Tata Steel with their mining and processing expertise asked for the license to set up a mining cum processing operation. Nothing came of it. The current DMK regime signed an MoU last month with the Tatas allowing them to set up a mining and processing operation.
AIADMK protested. But then, PMK and the communists also protested. Vijayakanth of DMDK protested. Sarath Kumar, another actor turned politician protested.
The government have stated that land will be acquired at market rates. The government will not invoke a Singur like operation and acquire land and turn it over to Tatas.
Tatas want 16,000 acres of land, to ensure they will have a solid supply of the titanium ore for a reasonable time to come. The government is suggesting that only 315 acres out of this is likely to be fertile land. The communists and PMK disagree with this.
The other concerns are that
(a) Tatas are asking for too much land.
(b) The mining operation will result in sucking the water completely from the nearby regions and convert the place into barren lands.
(c) Tatas cannot provide employment to all those who will be surrendering (read: selling) their lands.
(d) Pollution will adversely impact the local ecosystem.
The government announced that it will send a fact-finding team and ask the local people about their opinion. Each opposing political party said they will also send a fact-finding mission of their own. So yesterday (Monday), there were as many as three fact-finding missions talking to people. Each mission will deliver an entirely different version.
Any industrial activity of the type envisaged will result in some pollution. It is fair on the part of the Pollution Control Board to ask what measures Tatas will undertake to deal with the pollution caused and how to minimise the same without affecting the people, flora and fauna nearby. Water issue should also be dealt with. Tatas should come up with their views on how the nearby areas will be affected and what they intend to do.
Being a coastal land, Tatas can be told not to use the ground water, but to set up a desalination plant for all their water requirements. They can also be asked to ensure that water table not be tampered with, so that far away agricultural lands are not affected.
What could be the benefits of setting up such a plant? The southern Tamil Nadu is poorly developed. There are not many jobs for educated youth. Agriculture is an unsustainable job creator. The Rs. 2500 crore investment from Tatas can help in kickstarting the manufacturing sector in south Tamil Nadu. Provided the livelihood issues affecting the nearby people are taken care of, this project should be welcomed by all.
However, the short sighted political parties are making the life very difficult for the ruling party and the government.
A sudden suggestion has come from CPI that instead of getting a private company, the Union Government should be asked to set up the Titanium plant. If that is done, somehow the pollution and land acquisition problems will go away. This exposes the communists' double standards about what they want in West Bengal and what they will settle for in other states. (Shouldn't the Union Government be asked to set up an automobile factory in Singur instead of Tatas?)
The Union Government is in no position to set up new industries. When was the last time, they undertook industrial projects to the tune of Rs. 2500 crore?
Tamil Nadu has achieved significant manufacturing growth in the last decade because of automobile and auxillary manufacturing units near Chennai. Something similar has to be done in the south and west Tamil Nadu. Will our politicians make this happen?