Pondicherry cops lathi-charge protesters, fire teargas

A homeguard and about 15 people from the two rival groups sustained injuries in stone-pelting and the lathi-charge.

Puducherry: Police on Tuesday fired several rounds of teargas and resorted to lathi-charge to disperse two clashing groups at an aborted public consultation by the pollution board for eliciting views on the expansion of a pharmaceutical factory at Kalapet here.

A homeguard and about 15 people from the two rival groups sustained injuries in stone-pelting and the lathi-charge.

The dispute was over the proposal by Stride Shasun Limited to expand its capacity from the present 4800 tons per annum to 9150 tons per annum. The plant produces Ibuprofen tablets and other drugs at its Kalapet facility. It has recently won US FDA approval for producing Cinacalcet Hydrochloride tablets used for treatment of secondary hyperparathyroidism in adult patients with chronic kidney disease on dialysis and other forms of thyroid.

Eyewitnesses said as soon as the public consultation began at about 10 am at a marriage hall, under the aegis of district collector Satyendra Singh Dursawat, the group opposing the expansion gathered outside carrying black flags and started raising slogans and demanding the closure of the plant itself, alleging it was polluting the air and the groundwater in the area.

The supporters of the expansion shouted back saying that the plant had all the pollution control board clearances was not a pollutant of the environment and had caused major boost to local economy by providing large number of jobs.

With the situation getting tense, collector Dursawat cancelled the public hearing and left the place. Almost immediately, both the groups clashed, exchanging blows and throwing stones at each other.

When verbal pleading by senior officers failed to pacify the warring groups, the police resorted to lathi-charge. This led to the protesters clashing with the police and hurling stones at them. Police then fired about a dozen teargas shells dispersing the rioters. The situation was soon brought to control but the entire place looked like a battle ground with stones, abandoned chappals and upturned police barricades.

The anti-expansion protest organiser Tamilarasan blamed the administration for the violence, which he alleged happened only because the collector convened the public hearing on the plant expansion proposal instead of dumping the proposal altogether. “This public hearing led to the division of peacefully co-existing local people”, he said.

The pro-expansion brigade insisted that with the establishment of the pharma company some two decades ago, the economy has improved several fold and many of the local youth got jobs there. Only outsiders were opposing the expansion and that too after failing in their attempts to extort money from the company management, they said.

All-India NR Congress legislator Ashok Anand had filed a PIL in the Madras high court against the factory expansion saying it violated the government norm banning expansion of water-intensive plants within six km of coastline. He said the unit was located less than two km from the coastline. After this, he wanted the Chief Secretary to cancel the public hearing on Tuesday as the case was coming up the same day. The AIADMK too has opposed the plant expansion proposal.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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