The sacred Sengol (sceptre) from Tamil Nadu is installed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi next to the Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament building today i.e. May 28. It’s an historic day, no doubt. But for the people in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu, this day (May 28) in 2018 changed their world topsy-turvy.
The Sterlite Copper plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu completed five years of its closure today. The plant was ordered shut down on May 28, 2018 by the then AIADMK government after 13 people were killed in a police firing against the anti-Sterlite protestors near the vicinity of the plant premises.
They were protesting against the expansion of the Sterlite facility in Thoothukudi. Right from its inception, the copper smelter project has been through one controversy or the other. The political parties (read the two Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK) – have never fought shy of using this for their political one-upmanship game.
The ruling parties at the Centre – both Congress and the BJP – haven’t really distinguished themselves well in handling the Sterlite imbroglio, which saw green activists putting sustained pressure against the Sterlite plant, in general, and its expansion, in particular.
Shunned by two states, the project, however, was given refuge in Tamil Nadu. Over two decades have gone by since its controversial inception. All through its existence, the Dravidian parties alternately ruled Tamil Nadu. Much water had flowed under the bridge since then. Thanks to the Sterlite project, India turned into a copper exporting nation. And, Thoothukudi and its neighbourhood saw hectic economic activity resulting in substantial job opportunities for people in and around the region.
The permanent shutdown of the plant on May 28, 2018 changed the fate of the people in the region completely. Today, many have lost their jobs and the region is struggling to return to pre-2018 days. From a copper exporting country, India has now become a copper importing nation. This has enormous consequences for the country’s foreign exchange reserves. Since the electric vehicles are heavily copper guzzling ones, the demand-supply imbalance in this commodity must be worrying the policy planners who are giving a big push to the electric vehicles.
The Sterlite imbroglio is now before the Supreme Court. Hopefully, the apex court will deliver a solution to a project which has become a convenient political football. A new era is born today with the inauguration of a new Parliament and installation of a Sangol. Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel for people in the port town of Thoothukudi? A rational outlook from all is the need of the hour.