On Sunday morning, TMS Rajendiran, a 70-year-old farmer based in Coimbatore district's Chinna Thadagam village, had unwelcome visitors. A group of 50 men was at his doorstep, attempting to force their way in through his front door, and allegedly threatening to break in. Visuals from the incident show several men streaming into his house after the front door was finally opened.
The group of men allegedly belonged to a brick kiln manufacturersâ€™ association in Thadagam, where hundreds of illegal brick factories allegedly operate without permits. Rajendiran alleged that the group issued death threats to him and his family, after he filed a writ petition asking for the closure of over 200 illegal brick kilns operating in Chinna Thadagam and surrounding villages. "They threatened to eliminate me and my family if I didn't withdraw the petition in the Madras HC that pointed out how these illegal brick kilns were polluting the Chinna Thadagam village," he told TNM.
According to Rajendiran, the group was led by CR Ramachandran â€“ a powerful local leader and secretary of the DMK Kovai North unit; the brick kiln association president P Dharmaraj; treasurer TV Sampath Kumar; and owners of some prominent brick chambers such as VMT and CSD.
"They also visited my house, issued similar threats and even broke my front door. They wanted us to withdraw the writ petition," said Ganesh, an activist from Chinna Thadagam who supported Rajendiran's petition.
Meanwhile, CR Ramachandran and P Dharmaraj denied having threatened the petitioner to withdraw the case. "I did not issue any threats. They insulted me and made memes about me. I also did not take 150 men with me. The men seen in the visuals merely came to watch what was happening," Ramachandran told a local newspaper.
Dharmaraj confirmed that 10 of their men had visited the petitionersâ€™ homes, but denied having issued threats. "We went to ask for justice, not violence. We did not break the door. Ten of us went and sat in his house. We asked why he filed a petition and he denied filing any petition. After that we came back," he told the media.
Rajendiran and Ganesh have now filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police and the district collector following the incident.
The petition which was filed in the Madras HC in September said that at least 200 illegal brick manufacturing chambers were removing 4,000 truck loads of red sand every day from the Chinna Thadagam, Nanjundapuram, Veerapandi and Sowmayapalayam panchayats of Coimbatore. It added that most brick chambers are located near human habitations and as a result affected the 30,000 plus residents of these villages.
"Around 4,000 tonnes of wooden branches were being burnt along with bad quality coal, rubber, cashew, coconut and palm tree leaves. The toxic fumes have affected the health of students, patients and residents of these villages. Further, the dust from the trucks collecting red sand has also been settling on the trees and houses and causing breathing issues among residents. The illegal operations of these brick chambers have also affected the drinking water in the villages," the petition said.
Further, the petitioner also alleged that the illegal brick chambers have encroached on patta lands, inam lands, government porambokku land, Vinoba land, land given as charity, Adivasi settlement land etc. In these lands, they also drill 50 feet deep holes to extract red sand for operations, the petition said.
On receiving the writ petition, justice Satyanarayana Murthy of the Madras High Court announced that the case will be heard on October 17. It was following this development that the brick kiln owners began to issue threats, Ganesh and Rajendiran said.
Protests against illegal red sand mining has been a long standing issue in Coimbatore with several residents alleging threats by brick kiln owners. In August 2019. two residents of Chinna Thadagam village alleged that they were threatened by the brick kiln owners during a Grama Sabha meeting for raising the issue of air pollution caused by red sand mining. The two residents - S Rangaraj and Rajamaharshi - even submitted a petition to the Coimbatore district collector on the same issue, during the grievances meeting in the Collectorate
Various protests against encroachment of Adivasi land by brick kilns too have been reported earlier.
(With inputs from Anjana Sekhar)