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Learning to work the ropes[continued]

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Coastal Regulation Zone [CRZ] laws, HR&CE lease terms, citizen's rights to peace, pollution control laws were all violated and no one seemed to care. In 2002 the Grama Sabha passed a resolution seeking eviction of MGM from temple lands. Fishermen demanded of HR&CE that MGM's lease be terminated and punitive fines levied for felling trees. They petitioned the Chief Minister. They even filed a writ in the High Court. Nothing seemed to make a dent on the business management skills of MGM. Their public relations matched that skill: far from cultivating a benign image, they chose a menacing, muscular profile. An attempt by its workers to form a labour union in 2001 was ruthlessly snuffed out with police help. That confirmed the image they sought. MGM's money and muscle were soon legends for miles around.

By 2001, the temple grove was gone. Gone too, the little shrine and pond. Bulldozers had created a vast, flat space, and hundreds of trucks carrying in red earth and manure transformed the porous, water charging soil into one fit for an emerald lawn. A 3 acre lush green party land was ready to welcome MGM's paying guests. The Resort's narrow sea front was now vastly wider, thanks to the annexed land.Villagers were externed. An army of labourers watered the lawn using 200,000 litres of groundwater a day, even as Tamil Nadu reeled under a drought.

Drowning the sea's lullaby :

And then the parties began.

While the fishermen were agitating on one layer, other residents aggrieved by noise pollution were on another. We kept hearing tales of MGM having 'full rights' to the land, its political connections, its ruthless ways. We did the simple, the proper and the obvious: trips to the Collector's office, TNPCB and the police requesting something be done to control noise. The noise control unit of TNPCB finally conducted an inspection on Feb 21,2003, found the levels unacceptable and served a notice on MGM Beach Resorts.

Far from being chastened, MGM's violations grew more blatant. Residents were driven out of their peace to form, in early 2003, the East Coast Citizens Organisation [ECCO] with me as President and Navaz as Secretary. Some 50 people joined as members. I knew from publishing GoodNewsIndia, the power of Internet and so ECCO got a site too.

On July 12, 2003, John Exshaw, a liquor brand set up bars on the refurbished temple lands to host a party - a more ironic use for a once sacred grove is difficult to imagine. We went to bed at 2.00 am, after failing to get the police to stop the deafening noise. Then followed a series of parties without break for the next year.

On July 30,2004 a bumper ad appeared for a similar liquor party. The same day Navaz and I waited a couple of hours at the Secretariat and met the Home Secretary. She had headed the TNPCB before, remembered us and was annoyed by the violations implied in the ad. She directed us to the Deputy Inspector General[DIG] who suggested we meet the Superintendent of Police [SP]. We went as a delegation of about 12 residents and the SP said that while he could not cancel the party he would ensure it disturbed no one and ended early.

What in fact happened on July 31, 2004 needs to be told in some detail.

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