TIRUPUR: Villages in Kangayam block in Tirupur district, which were facing problems like bad air quality and water contamination and resultant health hazards such as breathing complications and skin allergies, are on the way to recovery.

As World Environment Day is observed on June 5, the fight of villagers for a clean enviornment is a story worth telling. The environmental problems were caused by the units producing charcoal from coconut shells. There are about 10 such units in Veeranampalayam and Pothiyapalayam village panchayats, which include more than 10 villages.

To make charcoal, tonnes of coconut shells were burnt at a temperature of 700 degrees in 10 to 20 ft deep pits with an area of over 500 sq ft. On an average, each unit has seven pits in which the shell are burnt.

The burnt shell is treated by pouring huge amounts of water into the pits. This water penetrates into the surrounding soil and contaminates groundwater. Besides, the smoke from these units pollutes the air and raises the temperature in the surroundings. Land adjacent to these units thus became infertile.

Following protests by villagers, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) shut the units in 2012. The owners in turn approached the Madras High Court. Teams formed by the High Courts Green Bench and subsequently the National Green Tribunal found that these units had caused much environmental damage and suggested their permanent closure.

However, there are still about 50 such units functioning illegally in Kangayam taluk. Politicians had to face the wrath of people when they went to villages to campaign ahead of the recent Assembly elections.

Many units are functioning illegally inside farms. Veeranampalayam and Pothiyapalayam panchayats have recovered by about 75 per cent. But environmental damage has begun in other areas, said C A Karthikeyan, who lead the protest.