Nearly 350 employees stand to lose their jobs and Kerala will witness the shutting down of another major manufacturing unit, if water is not made available for Nitta Gelatin’s plant located at Koratty in Thrissur district. The reason for the current deadlock is that there is no water supply to the plant since August 14 and the plant has remained shut since then.
The Nitta Gelatin Action Council (NGAC), a group which has been protesting against the company for the alleged pollution of the Chalakudy river, air and soil in the nearby regions, has blocked the water supply to the company from the river.
"Ever since the floods, the water source to the company has been blocked by the action council people, though they have been protesting against it for long. The plant has remained non-operational since then. This caused huge loss and this was the first time in the last six years that the company declared a loss in the first leg of a financial year," Managing Director Sajeev Menon tells TNM.
The company is hence considering a layoff, and if it goes ahead with this, nearly 350 employees working at the Koratty plant of the company are at risk of losing their jobs. “On November 11, the district collector had convened a meeting with representatives of the NGAC; but nothing fruitful came out of the meeting as they were adamant that they won't remove the block on the water supply from the river. The Industries minister has convened a meeting on January 3. The company even had expansion plans, but now everything is in a limbo," the MD adds.
However Mohandas, convener of Chalakkudy River Protection Forum said that the Action Council is not against taking of water from the river, but against pollution of the river by discharging of wastewater into it. Mohandas is also part of NGAC.
"We demand zero discharge of polluted water into the river. If the water is not polluted, the company can recycle and use right? The company can set up a recycling plant, that won't even reduce the company's profit. Then the company had the idea of discharging that polluted water into the sea, which is more unjustifiable" he says.
"If the company claims that they have the no-pollution certificate of government departments, we can produce several study reports which say that the company pollutes the river water. After the floods, there was a natural cleansing, hence we won't allow more pollution," he adds.
Founded way back in 1975, Nitta Gelatin is a joint venture of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation and Nitta Gelatin Group Japan. The company is the first venture as part of the public-private partnership in the state and is one of the few such companies to be still operational. A full-time director from Japan is monitoring the daily affairs of the company. It manufactures Gelatin for pharmaceutical and food applications, Wellnex Collagen Peptides for joint health and skin beauty, Di-Calcium Phosphate as poultry feed ingredient, NutriGold as agricultural growth promoter, Ossein and Chitosan for agri and industrial application.
However, some employees allege that there is lethargy on the part of the government and even among the trade unions on restarting the plant. “The Action Council won’t be able to legally move against the company as there is a HC direction allowing the company to take water from the river. But the Kadukutty panchayat under the jurisdiction of which the plant is functioning, has not been given permission to take water for the past several months. The company has an effluent treatment plant (ETP); the company in fact has spent more on the ETP than on the production plant,” a highly placed official says.
“The management, on their part, has several other options. It’s easier for them to set up a new plant in Telangana or Andhra Pradesh. The raw material needed, is available in better quality in Hyderabad. The company can set up the plant even outside the country. It is for the government to take a proactive step to retain the only Gelatin company in Kerala, since there is no water or environmental pollution caused by it. It’s a semi-government firm and it is open for inspection by a team of experts regarding the water or environmental pollution,” he says.
Banu Nambadan, convener of the NGAC claims what the company is saying is a blatant lie. "The period of functioning for a chemical factory is 35 years and the company now comes under a red category that it should wind up after a certain period. But it's mysterious that no details regarding the company are available even through Right to Information Act. We are not aware of the High Court order, which they claim granted them permission to take water from the river. If the water is pure, why don't they recycle and sell? Why don’t they distribute water to people living in nearby areas if the water the company discharges is not polluted?"
He adds," Not even a single officer of the company lives in the nearby area. The company has nearly 100 permanent employees, while others are contract workers. Even among the contract workers, the local people may number only around 40.