Tamil Nadu is fuming over the violence that took place in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), after the protests broke out against Sterlite’s industrial plant. The protest intensified, after which police personnel opened fire on the crowd which took lives of at least 13 people, and left many others injured. The residents have been demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper, a Vedanta group copper smelter unit, for past 100 days.
The protest got support from a wide array of political parties. The actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan also visited the area, and later the DMK leader MK Stalin visited the injured in the hospital. Most of the political parties have condemned the police firing which took place during the protest. Chief Minister E K Palaniswami condoled the deaths and constituted a Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Madras High Court judge Aruna Jagadeesan to probe circumstances leading to firing. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, in an interim order, stayed the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper’s industrial unit on Tuesday. The bench insisted that the company seeks public consultation before expanding its plant.
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi with immediate effect and disconnected the power supply to the unit on Thursday. The board found that the unit was ‘carrying out activities to resume production’ despite being told not to do so until its license to operate is renewed. In its order, the Board said that during its inspections on May 18 and 19, it found that the unit was ‘carrying out activities to resume production’ despite being told not to do so until its licence to operate is renewed. The board ordered the closure of the unit and disconnected the power supply under Section 33A of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and Section 31A of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1971.
So why are people protesting?
Protestors (residents) have been demanding the closure of the Sterlite’s copper smelting unit in Thoothukudi for past 100 days. They wanted the plant to be shut down as it was polluting groundwater in their area and causing environmental damages.
A group of activists has also accused pollution board of allowing the company to operate its smelter with shorter chimney stacks than permitted which helped the company reduce costs but harmed the environment. The protest actually began on March 24, 2018, when scorch of people started a protest over the expansion of the plant. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) later rejected the application of the Sterlite industries for its expansion. But the protestors have been saying that the company carried out construction work even after permissions were denied.
Not the first time
In March 2013, a gas leaked from the plant due to which people living in the vicinity started complaining about eye irritation and suffocation. Later, the collector issued a press release stating that the emissions of sulphur dioxide were found within overall limits and the public had not been affected by it at large. Back then, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper industries.
What is Sterlite Copper Industries?
Sterlite Copper unit is a copper smelting unit. It is run by London-based Vedanta Group. Sterlite produces non-ferrous metals like copper, and zinc, along with chemicals such as sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid. The plant in Thoothukudi is one of two copper plants in the country, the other one being in Silvassa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.