Indian consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has chopped down over 300 trees at its inoperative mercury factory in Kodaikanal. This massive felling of tress has exposed the mercury contaminated soil to erosion by rainwater and wind.
An activist group called Chennai Solidarity Group has released Google Earth images of the site from March 2018 and January 2020 to show the cutting down of the trees. The images of before- felling and after- felling in more than four acres of land show the difference in which the site has faced rampant felling of trees. According to The Hindu, the group said that at least 100 kg of soil- bound mercury was likely to have been washed off into the eco- sensitive Pambar Shola section of the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary.
The factory lies adjacent to the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary. The area is prone to extreme rainfall and the area streams join Vaigai River. Nityanand Jayaraman of Chennai Solidarity Group said to The Hindu that the clear – felling is a reckless move that will allow Unilever to clean- up its site by poisoning the Wildlife Sanctuary and the Vaigai catchment. The Forest Department and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) stand exposed as incapable of protecting the sanctuary an environment.
He added that as per the Upscaled Remediation Plan approved by the TNPCB in 2018and a soil conservation study, no tree should be felled and steps need to be taken to ensure that standing trees are not destabilised due to excavation of contaminated soil.
However, HUL replied that only a minimum number of trees have been cut. And once the remediation is complete, the company will plant more number of trees. He added that the trees were cut well above the ground level to to ensure soil is not disturbed.
The spokesperson said, “Trees were cut down only after HUL obtained the necessary permissions from the Dindigual District Hill Area (Preservation of tress) Committee, chaired by the District Collector, and the District Forest Officer in October 2019 and December 2019, respectively. This was in line with the recommendation made by the TNPCB and the Scientific Experts Committee constituted by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee earlier that year, for tree removal in the area requiring soil redemption.”