Poetic justice?

What do you do when a factory pollutes with impunity and the authorities turn a Nelson's eye? In Kerala's Pathanamathitta district, the people of Ezhamkulam panchayat (council) found the solution to a bone crushing factory that was polluting: they burnt the factory down on the festival of Onam in the second week of September. This came at the end of an 80-day dharna (sit-in) in front of the factory. "We can now breathe fresh air,' said members of the Priyadarshini Mahila Sangham, a women's group which was at the forefront of the protests. A press release by the group said that the factory had been burnt by management to claim an insurance of Rs 48 lakh.

The factory had been set up in December 1987. The local member of the state legislative assembly, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, said the factory owner Shahul Hameed had claimed that it would be a safety match factory where local people would be employed. What came up instead was a bonemeal factory, which offered no job opportunities to the people and emitted a foul smell. "Crows used to pick meat pieces and drop them in the wells. Many children and senior citizens were suffereing from pollution-related problems. How could I remain a mute spectator?' asked Radhakrishnan, speaking to The Times of India .

The report stated that after the people's demand for adoption of safety measures or locking up of the factory failed to impress the Kerala Pollution Control Board, the people got desperate. "It is a warning to all those who pollute the water and air and make life miserable for the people,' said Dharma Prasad, a local leader. He says in 1994, a state legislature committee on environment had recommended its closure. Twice, the district collector and the sub-divisional magistrate had ordered its closure. But the owner had obtained a stay from the high court.