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From Goa to Gummidipoondi

By V. Venkatesan

HOUNDED out of Goa by environmental action groups, Thapar DuPont Ltd, a joint venture of the Thapar group and E.I. DuPont de Nemours to manufacture nylon fibre and fabrics, has found shelter in Tamil Nadu.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed early in June by TDL and the Tamil Nadu Government, the company's Rs.625-crore plant will be located in Gummidipoondi, 40 km from Madras, and manufacture 18,500 tonnes a year of nylon 6,6 (the DuPont trade name for polymide fibre) tyre cord and fabrics. TDL will offer the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (Tidco) an equity stake.

The project had run into trouble in Goa, with environmentalists and locals led by the Anti-Nylon 6,6 Citizens Action Committee (ANCAC) protesting against the proposed plant in Kerim village, which they feared would endanger the environment and the villagers' health.

Both the components of nylon 6,6--hexamethylene diamine (HMDA) and adipic acid--have ben classified as hazardous by the U.S. Health Department. TDL officials claim HMDA is non-toxic and was branded hazardous only because it is flammable. They also claim that the adipic acid they use is food-grade. But ANCAC members consider HMDA a dangerous carcinogenic.

With protests intensifying, TDL began looking for alternative sites. TDL officials say Tamil Nadu met all the requirements--a customer base, port and infrastructural facilities, and skilled workers. Work on the site will begin in August, and factory construction by November. By 1997, Asia's first nylon 6,6 plant is expected to become operational.

The shifting of the plant has been welcomed by Goan environmental groups, citizens' committees, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Catholic Church. They see it as a victory of the people against a multinational.

Once bitten, TDL is treading warily on the environment front. Managing director V. Sam Singh says the Gummidipoondi plant will be the "safest" nylon manufacturing facility in the world. The State Government, particularly Chief Minister Jayalalitha, seems satisfied with this assurance. But in the final analysis, TDL will be judged not on its claims but on its record. n

(Published in Frontline, June 30, 1995)

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