Tirupur, Tamil Nadu: Closure of dyeing and bleaching units in Tirupur, the textile hub of Tamil Nadu, may prove electorally expensive as locals are holding the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) responsible for the government’s failure to evolve an alternative plan to protect jobs.
While governance and sustained inflation are two key issues in the campaign, the response of the local populace in Tirupur suggests local factors, too, would impact electoral choice.
Shutdown shocks: A closed dyeing unit in Tirupur. The Madras high court had ordered the closure of 720 bleaching and dyeing units in January, a move that left almost 50,000 people unemployed. Photo: Nathan G/Mint
This would only further complicate any assessment, especially since vote fragmentation has only gained momentum in the recent electoral contests.
The Madras high court had ordered the closure of 720 units in January following the filing of a public interest litigation against discharge of effluents from the dyeing and bleaching units into the Noyyal river; these units, according to workers unions, are estimated to have 50,000 employees. Mint could not independently confirm this.
The move has led to around 75,000 people leaving the town, which accounts for one-fifth of India’s textile exports, say locals.
“According to the local tehsildar (revenue official), 25,000 ration cards have already been surrendered and around 52,000 people have given application for surrendering their cards. Tirupur accounts for export of around Rs11,000 crore annually and around Rs5,000 crore business in the Indian markets. Still the current government failed to do anything to prevent such a huge loss, ” said A. Ganesh Kumar, who works with a garments export unit.
Kumar says around 50% of this business will be affected by the court’s order and would influence the way people vote. “It will cost dearly to the DMK in this place, which provides jobs to around 500,000 workers,” claimed Kaithamalai, a member of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the principal rival of the DMK.
He claimed Jayalalithaa’s 2001-06 government had proposed a Rs800 crore plan under which the polluted water could be carried through pipes to be dumped in the Bay of Bengal in Tuticorin. “The estimated cost of project would now be around Rs1,400 crore,” added Kumar.
Former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, which has mounted a challenge to the DMK, is going all out to tap the anger among voters.
Tamil Nadu’s 234 constituencies will go to poll on 13 April.
The women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, the AIADMK’s ally, has been campaigning against the government’s apathy towards workers. The AIADMK-Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (actor Vijayakant-led DMDK) led combination has fielded a CPM candidate in the Tirupur-North constituency.
Kaithamalai and his friends in AIADMK claimed Jayalalithaa had initiated efforts to clean the Orathupalayam dam, 30km away from Tirupur in Erode district, a major source of water for the region and also polluted by effluents from Tirupur.
“She has promised that she would resume it. We are confident that she would,” says Saroja, a CPM activist and vice chairperson of Velampalayam municipal council.
“It is not an issue of just thousands of people. The subordinate sections such as sewing and knitting are also hit by the development. All these workers who have lost jobs are moving back to their villages. There are hundreds of houses being vacated, students are taking transfer certificates from the schools. It’s a matter of life and death for people in Tamil Nadu,” says Savitri, another resident in Tirupur town. Labourers from these units were mainly from Tirunelveli, Madurai, Theni and Kanyakumari districts.
With the units being shut down in Tirupur, garment manufacturers here started sending orders to dyeing hubs in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Ludhiana, New Delhi, Kolkata and nearby Erode district.
DMK supporters maintain the government had tried. “It’s a high court order that closed down the dyeing units,” said Selvan, another resident.
Addressing a public rally in Coimbatore last week, DMK leader and chief minister M. Karunanidhi also said that, if given the mandate again, the DMK will, with the help of the Centre, strive to find a permanent solution to the effluents problem that prevailed in Tirupur.