The Telegraph
Wednesday , December 19 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Asbestos factory sparks eco fury

- Administration stops construction work

Patna, Dec. 18: The Vaishali district administration has stopped construction of a white asbestos factory in the Goraul block for a month following an attack on the facility by a group of around 1,000 villagers.

“Considering the ground situation, we have requested the company to stop work for a month. Let the residents make their appeals to authorities concerned and get their issues resolved,” Vaishali district magistrate Jitendra Srivastava told The Telegraph today.

On Sunday, the mob raided the factory in the Rampur Rajdhari panchayat claiming that the unit would have an adverse impact on agriculture in the area. An FIR was lodged with the local police station for a loss of property to the tune of Rs 80 lakh, accusing 350 unnamed and 50 named people of the violence.

The asbestos factory, a facility of UAL Bihar, has become a bone of contention for the administration and its owners because of repeated protests by the residents. UAL Bihar is a unit of Calcutta-based UAL Industries Ltd. The villagers had made similar violent protest in June, when they had set ablaze a portion of the upcoming factory. The disagreement had also reached the high court. The district administration held a meeting between the villagers and the company in the second week of November following a high court judgment in favour of the unit. It was then decided to start construction of the factory after Chhath. However, the work finally began from December 1.

UAL officials were not available for comments. The villagers are up in against the unit for two years. They want closure of the factory alleging “discrepancy” in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the unit that was earlier cleared by the expert appraisal committee (industrial projects), Union ministry of environment and forests, on October 25, 2010.

“We were initially told that it would be an agro-medicine manufacturing plant. But recently we got to know that it is an asbestos plant. The EIA mentions that the 18 acres acquired for the factory was barren. But it is the same land and farms that are being cultivated by families for years together. The land is fertile and food crops, including potato and rice, are being grown here,” said Raj Kishore, a farmer and member of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangarsh Committee, a pressure group spearheading the agitation.

“Besides, the plant would extract 1,20,000 metric tonne of water a month. This would degrade the water table. There are several villages and schools in the vicinity,” he added.

When contacted, an employee of UAL Industries Ltd in Calcutta, said: “I am not authorised to speak on the issue and the executive concerned is not available right now.”