Kochi, Nov. 27: International environment NGO Greenpeace has launched a unique programme in India to highlight environmental crimes committed by industries across the world and stress the need for corporate accountability.
The campaign — consisting of 1,000 jathas (campaign tours) — set off from Kochi on Monday morning.
The Indian crusade comes close on the heels of Greenpeace’s Global Corporate Crimes Report, released during the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg. The report lists 48 cases of grievous environmental crimes committed by industries across the globe.
The jatha on Monday was preceded by a launch function Sunday evening, during which former Supreme Court Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer inaugurated the programme by handing over a copy of the report to Justice Narayana Kurup, a former judge of Kerala High Court.
The ceremony was held aboard the Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise, which has been docked at Kochi since Saturday.
Of the 48 cases highlighted in the 184-page report, India accounts for five and two of these are from Kerala.
The companies that have been termed “perpetrators of crime” in Kerala are the Plantation Company of Kerala and the Hindustan Insecticides Limited, situated in Eloor near Kochi.
“The aerial spraying of endosulphan by the Plantation Company of Kerala in the northern districts of the state is easily the most devastating environmental crime in recent times,” observed Manu Gopalan, a Greenpeace campaigner against toxins.
Several studies have shown that endosulphan has affected approximately 20,000 people spread over scores of villages in Kasaragode district in north Kerala, causing cancer, liver disorders and hormonal problems.
Endosulphan was briefly banned in Kerala in August last year, but the embargo was lifted six months later after the state government claimed that only the Centre could impose a long-term or permanent ban on the chemical.
The report also indicts Hindustan Insecticides Limited, Eloor. According to a Greenpeace investigation in 1999, a stream of industrial effluents released by this company along with Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore and Merchem Limited contained 111 toxic chemicals of which 39 were organochlorines.
Other Indian companies mentioned in the report include Dow Chemicals (formerly Union Carbide) and Unilever, which has been charged with dumping mercury at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu.
“An important aspect in many of the cases (in the report) is the apparent difference in the behaviour of a company in a ‘rich’ western country which has relatively strict rules protecting people and the environment and the disappointing behaviour of the same company in ‘poor’ countries where the laws are lax and hardly enforced,” Justice Krishna Iyer said, speaking on the occasion.
The campaign will focus on the “continuing negative impacts” of the Bhopal gas tragedy and call for measures to empower people to eliminate corporate irresponsibility. The jathas will pass through Mangalore, Bhadravati and culminate in Bhopal, among the 25 hotspots identified by Greenpeace.
The second phase of the campaign will be launched from Calcutta on December 10 during which a 25-member team will visit mining areas across Orissa, the eastern ports of Paradip and Vishakapatanam, pesticide disposal areas in Andhra Pradesh such as Warangal, Patancheru and Hyderabad.