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Mavoor Gwalior Rayon Factory, Calicut, Kerala, India


Description:

Rayon is a cellulose fiber that is made from natural sources of cellulose, such as wood, bamboo or related agricultural products. On May 3rd, 1958 the Birla group signed an agreement with the Kerala government to set up a Rayon Grade wood pulp factory with a capacity of 100 tonnes per day in the Nilambur-Beypore area in the District of Calicut. This agreement commited the government to supply 1,60,000 tonnes of bamboo per year to the company at a rate of only Rs.1 per tonne of bamboo (the prevailing market price of bamboo was Rs 2000 per tonne). It gave the company exclusive rights and license to extract any bamboo from contract areas which initially was the Nilambur Valley. If additional bamboo was required, it also had the right to fell and remove it from other areas in proximity to the Contract Areas. The capacity of the plant also increased in a few years and it later also began producing Viscose Staple Pulp and other chemicals required to use in the plant. Through subsequent Supplementary Agreements, the commitment was increased and more forests were opened up for the company, and by 1984 practically all of the state’s forest tracts were made available for the extraction of Bamboo (and later Eucalyptus)[1]. The government assured the people that the establishment of a company on the banks of Chaliyar (the fourth longest river in Kerala,  169 km) would usher an age of development and salaried employment. The factory started functioning in 1962.

Pulp factories require enormous amounts of water to function. The Grasim factory used about 51,650 m3 of water per day and discharged  40,000 m3 of effluents back into the river[1,2].  

The river was a source of drinking and bathing water. It was also a source of income and food for the people who fished, foraged mussels. The factory was also responsible for polluting the air with gases including carbon disulphide and sulphur dioxide above permissible limits.  R. Sridhar in a study in 2000 makes an account of the losses incurred by way of massive raw material subsidies provided to the company over 34 years (1962-1998) to be Rs 28,936 crores[2]. This is excluding the loss of livelihoods dependent on the Chaliyar river and forests of Kerala from which the factory sourced its raw materials; the damage inflicted on the river, land, air, wildlife; and the impact on the health of the people living in proximity to the factory. The Green Rating Project of the Centre for Science and Environment(CSE) which rates industrial units of each sector based on their environmental friendliness, in 1997 ranked the company 25th of 28 pulp and paper units[3]. It revealed that the company’s fiber use efficiency was as low as 29%.  

Protests against the company by the people, objecting to its pollution of their villages, started almost as soon as it started functioning and the first protest group also came up called the Chaliyar Defence Committee. Interestingly this is also when Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring in 1962. One could say it marked the beginning of Kerala’s first environmental movement. One of the earliest slogans raised against the company was “Kudikkana Vellam Kulumal Akkiya Birla Company Manda Manda” (We don’t need the Birla Company that pollutes our drinking water)[1] [4].  This started the prolonged struggle against the company for the next four decades negotiating initially managed effluent discharge and later on to close down the factory. Efforts of the following protests were later consolidated under the Chaliyar Jala Vayu Shuddikarana Committee (Chaliyar Water and Air Purification Committee) in 1973. 

In 1974, with the involvement of the state leadership, an agreement was reached between the people and the management regarding the effluent discharge. The company was to lay a pipeline 6.4 km downstream from the factory. This was only implemented 6 years later and it was then discovered that the tidal waves brought back the effluents upstream to Mavoor. Although the Kerala State Pollution Control Board was established in 1974, the company consistently flouted the permissible limits of various factors without facing flack for it. 

The environmental movement often clashed with the interests of the trade unions who were afraid of the repercussions of the closing of the factory. Instead, their negotiations with the management were to regularise contractual employees and working hours of daily wage labourers. The company shut down in 1985 for three years following a lockout after a labour strike. 13 employees of the factory committed suicide in the period. Studies in the next two decades showed that the Chaliyar was polluted beyond acceptable levels. In the 1990s the focus also turned to the health impacts of the company’s air and water pollution. The death register of the panchayat of Vazhakkad in 1999 noted that 21% of the reported deaths there were due to cancer. There were also about 200 deaths due to cancer in the period between 1990-1994 in Vazhakkad Panchayath[5][6]. 3 employees of the factory died while repairing faulty values on the pipeline. From 1997 the demands to shut down the plant started to be voiced. The protests turned fervent in 1999 January after the death of K A Rahman, the leader of the protest movement, who succumbed to cancer[7]. A state-level convention was organized and later an indefinite relay fast was observed from January 26th in front of the factory. By May 1999, the company halted its production and by 2001 the factory was shut down.

Since 2013 the people of Mavoor are calling for responsible development and sustainable industry in the land where the company used to exist.  Successive governments have made attempts to take over 330 acres of land of the erstwhile factory from the Birla group without a favourable outcome[8]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mavoor Gwalior Rayon Factory, Calicut, Kerala, India
Country:India
State or province:Kerala
Location of conflict:Calicut
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Bamboo, Viscose, Wood Pulp
Cellulose
Eucalyptus
Chemical products
Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Pulp division production capacity:

72,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of Rayon Grade Pulp

3500 TPA of paper

Staple Fibre division production capacity:

26,000 TPA of Viscose Staple Fibre

16,500 TPA of Sodium Sulphate

4500 TPA of Carbon di sulphide

Number of employees: 3000

Total Water Consumed: 51,650 m3 per day

Project area:121
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:25,000-50,000
Start of the conflict:2001
End of the conflict:2001
Company names or state enterprises:Grasim Industries Limited from India
Aditya Birla Group from India
Relevant government actors:Kerala State Government
Kerala State Pollution Control Board
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Chaliyar Defence Committee
Chaliyar Jala Vayu Shuddikarana Committee
Gwalior Rayons Workers' Organisation (GROW)
Kerala Shastra Sahithya Parishad

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Trade unions
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Strikes
Threats to use arms
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Boycotts of companies-products

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The plant was shut down in 2001 and the company compensated its employees. This can be considered to be a case of environmental justice success.

However, no effort was made to acknowledge or compensate the victims of pollution. The loss of land, biodiversity and livelihood of the Adivasi population also weren't taken into account.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[8] Call for Law to Take Over Mavoor Grasim Land, Jose Kurian, 2015, Deccan Chronicle
https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/030219/call-for-law-to-take-over-mavoor-grasim-land.html

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1]George, Abey and Krishnan, Jyoti, 2002,

River, People and Industry: The Politics and Pollution of River Chaliyar, Report Submitted to Kerala Research Programme on Local Level Development, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram
http://www.cds.ac.in/krpcds/report/Abey%20George.pdf

Revisiting Important Water Conflicts in Kerala,Gaurav Dwivedi, 2001, Kerala State Centre of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshana Samithi, Chalakudy,
https://www.soppecom.org/pdf/2Kerala%20Water%20Conflicts%20Report.pdf

[2]Sridhar R (Author), Dhanaraj Keezhara (Illustrator), 2000, GRASIM since 1963 - The Burden on our heads: An enquiry into what this industry did our forests
https://thanaltrust.org/download/grasim-since-1963/?fbclid=IwAR2GpIaypKhQUnTX-2_0_Ws1OEBU5lQ40OmT1uiT22c0QKlN6bf8zp_8gHA

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] Industrial blackmail!, Down to Earth
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/industrial-blackmail-20454

[7]Honoring a Legend of the Chaliyar, 2009, The Hindu. "The high point of the agitation was in December 1998 when K, A. Rahman (1940-99) marched to the factory gates demanding its immediate closure with around 7,000 villagers behind him."
https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/Honouring-a-legend-of-the-Chaliyar/article16348975.ece

[5]Justice Denied!, C Surendranath, 2000, India Seminar
http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/492/492%20surendranath%20c.htm

[6]Mavoor: A Story of Corporate Social `Irresponsibility` and Lost Livelihoods, Babu P Remesh, V.V.Giri, 2008, Labour FIle
https://www.labourfile.com/section-detail.php?aid=529

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[4] #Air_Pollution, #Water_Pollution: Story of Mavoor GRASIM Company, Kerala, Hamidali Vazhakkadu, 2020,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nMzhgG3PO4

Meta information

Last update10/10/2020

Images

 

Protest Meeting

Source: https://utharakalam.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Mavoor-Strike.jpg

Abandoned Factory Premises

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/in-other-news/241016/gwalior-rayons-land-may-host-skill-centre.html

One of the people's strikes against the company demanding that it be shut down

Source: https://utharakalam.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Mavoor-Strike.jpg

Source: Indiaretailing.com