Former Union minister T.R. Baalu's attempts to revive a distillery project near his village in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district is turning into a political row for the Centre.
Senior DMK ministers are putting pressure on the UPA for a green signal after Madras High Court passed a restraint order against grant of environment clearance for the project.
The court, which passed the interim injunction against the distillery owned by Baalu’s son T.R.B. Rajakumar on a public interest petition, asked the environment ministry to ascertain if the project is viable.
The villagers, under the banner of Vadaseri Village Farmers Union, called on Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh here to persuade him against allowing the industrial alcohol distillery as it would deplete groundwater.
With the state elections due early next year and the congress-DMK ties in focus, Baalu is keen that the project, with a capacity of 120 KLD spirit per day, takes off early.
According to DMK sources, Baalu — though not on the best terms with the DMK ministers — has got them to speak to Ramesh for an early clearance in the face of protests, which gained momentum after a public hearing organised by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in April turned violent.
Baalu — who enjoys the support of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s second wife, Rajathi and her daughter, Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi — has also sent some people from the village to call on Ramesh to back the project.
As Baalu accused his rivals in the DMK and AIADMK of stirring trouble, Ramesh, who has been proactive in stopping controversial projects like Vedanta and Posco to protect the environment, said “we are examining it and all due process will be followed (before we decide)”.
The distillery unit has got clearance from local authorities to draw 15 lakh litres of water.
“We grow paddy, corn, black gram, and tapioca... If we dig below 300 feet, the water becomes oily and unusable,” said A.G. Krishnamoorthy, the head of the farmers union.