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India: Killing & violence on Anti-Sterilite Protestors - Statements by NAPM and other citizens initiatives + news report

23 May

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[updated on 24 May 2018]

  1. Enmasse killing & violence on Anti-Sterilite Protestors Outrageous & Barbaric: Blot on Democracy: Exposes Cruel Face of Corporate StateText of Statement by NAPM
  2. Citizens’ Statement on Police Violence Against Sterlite Protestors in Thoothukudi [Tamil Nadu, India]
  3. Statement by Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS)

1.

NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTS

National Office: 6/6, Jangpura B, New Delhi – 110 014
Phone:011 24374535 | 9971058735
E-mail:napmindia[at]gmail.com | Web:www.napm-india.org

Enmasse killing & violence on Anti-Sterilite Protestors Outrageous & Barbaric: Blot on Democracy: Exposes Cruel Face of Corporate State

  • NAPM demands Court-monitored Judicial Inquiry by Retired Apex Court Judge & action against senior political leaders, officials responsible for the massacre
  • GoTN must ensure permanent shut down of Old and Proposed Units of Sterilite

23rd May, 2018: National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) strongly condemns the brutal gunning down of over 11 citizens including a 17 year old girl and violence on more than 60 persons by the Tamil Nadu Police, during the mass and largely peaceful protests against the Sterilite Copper Plant of Vedanta Pvt. Ltd. in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. It is know that the people of Thoothukudi have been protesting against the pollution of ground water and air by the copper smelter for years. This current phase of protest started in early march when the expansion of Sterlite plant to double capacity was announced. On the 100th day of protest i.e. 22nd May, against the Sterlite copper unit Ltd, thousands of people of Thoothukudi took out a pre-announced march towards the Collectorate. The march was to reiterate their demand to shut down the existing copper smelter, causing severe pollution and health hazards. Over 10,000 people – men, women and children marched to meet the collector.

The Tamil Nadu police lathi charged, shot with tear gas and smoke bombs at the protesters without provocation. When the people ran towards the collectorate, during which time certain government vehicles were reportedly torched, the police opened fire killing over 10 people and injuring several others. Over 3,000 police personal including commandos with self-loaded rifles were deployed to bring ‘situation under control’. Reports from the ground account for police chasing and unprovoked shooting at men and women and into fishing hamlets. There are videos of police personal shooting from a safe distance atop vehicles and armed with lathi entering hospital and beating up the injured!!! This is nothing but a barbaric assault on the democratic rights of the people.

Protests against Sterlite have been going on for over two decades. On March 24th 2018 a similar protest was called, participated by tens of thousands of people with no untoward incident. This forced the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Rural Development Officer (RDO), to take groundwater samples from 7 locations within Sterlite factory premises and 8 from villages around the factory. The results revealed widespread and high levels of contamination in all 15 groundwater sources. Levels of the neurotoxin heavy metal lead, which is particularly toxic to children, were found to be between 4 and 55 times higher than levels considered safe for drinking water. The company has been shut down many a times through court orders for violation of environmental safeguards, since 1998. At least 15 workers have died and many have been injured due to hazardous working conditions.

The responsibility of yesterday’s shooting lies with not just the police and the district administration, but the Government of Tamil Nadu, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. For, yesterday was a bloody culmination of over two decades of blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of the people and protecting corporate interest. One needs to remember that in 1992, Sterlite was allotted land in Maharashtra, but was shifted to Tamil Nadu due to massive protest by the people of Ratnagiri. The Genesis and the growth of Strelite in Tamil Nadu is an example of how the deep crony capitalism is entrenched in our system. The project received environmental clearance in January 1995, even before the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). There have been periodical complains made to TNPCB of health issues caused gas leak, draining toxic waste along with rainwater, polluting the groundwater, but each time Sterlite got a clean chit. In 2013, the Supreme Court on hearing the people of Thoothukudi, gave a severe indictment to the company, but refused to shut it down.

We have seen such tactics before and will not be fooled. We saw similar brute force and false charges used to curb the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protests. Similarly the same brutality was shown in curbing the Jallikattu movement. It is the sad state of affairs that the entire state machinery is deployed to defend the profit of a private corporate that has a chequered history in the country, be in Orissa, Chhattisgarh or elsewhere. But just like many other states of the country, Tamil Nadu too has been simmering with protests against corporate loot and state terror, in order to protect corporate interests.

NAPM stands in full solidarity with the fighting masses of Thoothukudi and extends our deepest condolences to the families who have lost their dear ones, all activists and leaders of the movement, in their own right. We demand the immediate shutting of the Sterilite copper smelter and its expansion. Development that does not account for the wellbeing of the people is nothing but destruction and has to be fought tooth and nail.

We call upon the Govt. of TN to honour the interim order of the Madres High Court issued today to stall all works of the Plant and conduct a public hearing. The authorities must ensure no further intimidation, harassment and arrests of the already battered people. GoTN must ensure immediate disbursement of at least Rs. 1 crore compensation to the families of each of the deceased persons, Rs. 50 lakhs to each of the severely injured persons and a permanent government job to at least one member in the family of each of the deceased.

Given the scale and seriousness of the crime involved, a time bound, Court-monitored Judicial Inquiry by a Retired Supreme Court Judge to investigate the entire incident and fix liability must be initiated at the earliest. FIR under Section 302 IPC must be registered against the senior officials as well as political leaders, without whose facilitation and orders, the planning and executed these shootings and killings would not have happened.

The Government of Tamil Nadu has lost its ethical right to govern the state and at the bare minimum must ensure the stepping down of senior ministers who could have acted prudently and thwarted this tragedy, but did not.

Endorsed By:

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)

Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, NAPM

Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM Odisha

Dr.Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, KisanSangharshSamiti, Rajkumar Sinha, Bargi Baandh Visthapit evam Prabhavit Sangh, NAPM, Madhya Pradesh

P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, Meera Sanghamitra, Rajesh Serupally, NAPM Telangana - Andhra Pradesh

Dr Binayak Sen, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); GautamBandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha;KaladasDahariya, RELAA, NAPM Chhattisgarh

Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan

Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party;Richa Singh, Sangatin;ArundhatiDhuru, Manesh Gupta, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh

Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai; Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation; Arul Doss, NAPM Tamil Nadu

Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union; Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere, NAPM, Karnataka

Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, NAPM, Kerala

Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, NAPM Gujarat

Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan sangathan; Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand

Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-MoolnivasiAstivtva Raksha Samiti; Basant Kumar Hetamsaria and Ashok Verma, NAPM Jharkhand

Samar Bagchi, AmitavaMitra, NAPM West Bengal

Suniti SR, SuhasKolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, &Bilal Khan, GharBachaoGharBanaoAndolan, Mumbai NAPMMaharashtra

Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), NAPM

Faisal Khan, KhudaiKhidmatgar; J S Walia, NAPM Haryana

Guruwant Singh, NAPM Punjab

Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan; MahendraYadav, KosiNavnirmanManch; Sister Dorothy, Ujjawal Chaubey, NAPM Bihar, Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Sunita Rani, Domestic Workers Union; Rajendra Ravi, Nanhu Prasad, Madhuresh Kumar, Amit Kumar, Himshi Singh, Uma, NAPM, Delhi

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2.

Citizens’ Statement on Police Violence Against Sterlite Protestors in Thoothukudi [Tamil Nadu, India]

Police violence in Thoothukudi has left at least 10 shot dead and hundreds injured. Not only was this tragedy totally avoidable, it appears that the Police have even given hot pursuit and shot at women and others in fishing hamlets like Theresepuram. The sheer brutality of the police action reminds one of the manner in which the Jallikattu protests were dealt with.

The Government of Tamil Nadu, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Thoothukudi District Administration are squarely responsible for allowing the situation to get to this unfortunate state by allowing Vedanta Sterlite to violate environmental and land use planning laws with impunity for over two decades.

The people who died are just ordinary people who have been forced to take to the streets, and march to the Collectorate to demand action from an administration that has syste matically and for decades failed to enforce the law on Sterlite. The District Collector, the chairperson and member secretary of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the Secretaries holding the environment portfolios in the central and state governments, the ministers of environment at the state and centre, and the chief minister of Tamil Nadu need to account for their inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence of illegalities, environmental harm and damage to public health.

This is not the first time that Sterlite’s pollution and the impunity it enjoys has been the cause of public anger in Thoothukudi. In 2013, the Supreme Court of India curiously found the company guilty of misrepresentation, unlicensed operation and polluting the environment, but allowed the company to operate after paying a small fine as it felt Ind ia needed the copper.

The company failed to reform its ways even after this narrow judicial escape. The regulators — TNPCB and Ministry of Environment and Forests — too continued their cosy relationship with Sterlite ignoring blatant violations of statutory conditions and clear indications of pollution. It is a known fact that the state and central governments have allowed Sterlite to operate with lower-than-required chimney stacks, thereby exposing lakhs of residents to higher levels of toxic pollutants.

It has ignored the tentative findings of a government medical college’s health study that reported higher incidence of certain health problems among the village rs living around the factory.

Let us not forget that for the second time in two months more than a lakh residents of this coastal town have taken to the streets with one clear demand: Immediate and Complete Shutdown of Sterlite. The state government and the district administration should also be blamed for failing to appreciate the depth of resentment among the people of Thoothukudi to Sterlite’s illegal and polluting operations and the betrayal by the State of its people.

The Government of Tamil Nadu has lost its moral right to govern, and should at the very least ensure that the senior ministers who failed to read the signs properly and take preventive action res ign. But before anything else, the Government of Tamil Nadu should have the decency to declare an end to the toxic terrorism unleashed by Sterlite and permanently close down the polluting unit.

Signed:

  • Henri Tiphagne, Advocate & National Working Secretary, Human Rights Defenders’ Alert – India ( HRDA), Executive Director, People’s Watch
  • Justice D Hariparanthaman (Retd.)
  • MG Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.)
  • Vetri Maaran, Filmmaker
  • Charu Govindan, Voices of People
  • Dr. V Vasanthi Devi, Former Vice-Chancellor, Manormanium Sundaranar University
  • Chandra Mohan, Arappor Iyakkam
  • G Sundarrajan, Poovulagin Nanbargal
  • Nityanand Jayarama n, Writer and Social Activist
  • V. Geetha, Writer and Publisher, Chennai
  • Prema Revathi, Writer, Publisher and Actor, Chennai
  • Piyush Manush, Salem Citizen’s Forum
  • A Mangai, Professor
  • V Arasu, Professor
  • R Rathindran Prasad, Filmmaker
  • Divya Bharathi, Filmmaker
  • Sofia Ashraf, Writer and Rapper
  • Kavitha Muralidharan, Journalist, Chennai
  • Sujata Mody, President, Penn Thozhilalargal Sangam
  • M. Subbu, Tamil Maanila Kattida Thozhilalar Sangam (TMKTS)
  • Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde, Public Health Researcher
  • Swarna Rajagopalan, Gender Equality Activist
  • Nadika Nadja, Writer, Chennai
  • L Ramakrishnan, Queer & Women’s Rights activist
  • Ashley Tellis, LGBT activist
  • Srijith Sundaram, Theatre practitioner, Kattiyakkari
  • Amirtharaj Stephen, Photographers for Environment & Peace collective
  • Anushka Meenakshi, Filmmaker
  • Iswar Srikumar, Filmmaker
  • Archanaa Seker, Writer and Activist
  • Satyarupa Shekhar, Social Activist
  • Om Prakash Sin gh, Social Activist
  • Bharat Nayak, Founding Member & Editorial Director, The Logical Indian
  • Shweta Narayan, Environmental Researcher and Activist
  • Dharmesh Shah, Environmental Activist & Public Policy Researcher
  • Pooja Kumar, Chennai Solidarity Group
  • K Saravanan, Fisherman
  • Aiswarya Rao, Public Health and Disability Rights Activist
  • Balaji Sampath, Activist and Educator
  • Kaber Vasuki, Writer and Musician
  • Shravan Krishnan, Animals Rights Activist
  • Sudha Ramamurthy, Persons with Disabilities Rights Activist
  • Subathra, Arappor Iyakkam
  • AR Dileep Srinivasan, The New Face of Society
  • Kavitha Rajendran, Coordinator - People’s Platform Against Fascism
  • Ram vaitheeswaran, Filmmaker
  • Mythri Prasad, Associate Fellow, Institute for Human Development
  • Sudipto Mondal, Journalist, Bangalore
  • Suseela Anand , Advocate
  • Sandeep K, Cinematographer
  • Elangovan kulandaivelu, COO, Zinnea
  • Gurumoorthy M, AID India Bangalore Chapter and Entrepreneur< br>Rajkumar Sivasamy, Bangalore
  • Steevez Rodriguez, Photographer
  • Venkatachandrika R., IT Engineer
  • Rahul Muralidharan, Researcher, Chennai
  • T Venkat, Independent Journalist, Chennai
  • Annapoorni Devaraja, Classical Dancer
  • Lakshmi Premkumar, Activist, Delhi,
  • Delfina Kanchana Sundar, Independent Researcher, Chennai
  • Namithaa Jayasankar, Queer Femme Activist
  • Samyuktha PC, Chennai, Theatre Director
  • Satwik Gade, Illustrator
  • Aparnaaa Nagesh, Founder, High Kicks dance ensemble
  • Ravindra Vijay, Actor
  • Akhil Al Hassan, Entrepreneur
  • Janani Sathviga, Pune
  • Sonal Jain, Social Entrepreneur
  • Pradeep Kuttuva, Researcher, Chennai
  • Pazhani Aarya, Researcher
  • M.Shreela, Law student
  • Amba Salelkar, Advocate, Chennai
  • Chenthil Nathan, Translator, Chennai
  • Ramya Sadasivam, Artist
  • Smitha Sadasivan, Member, Disability Rights Alliance, India
  • Gayatri Nair, Photographer
  • Nilakantan RS, Data Scientist
  • Dr. Anbudorai, Psychiatrist

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3.

BHOPAL GAS PEEDITH MAHILA UDYOG SANGHATHAN (BGPMUS)
51, Rajendra Nagar, Bhopal – 462010

&

BHOPAL GAS PEEDITH SANGHARSH SAHAYOG SAMITI (BGPSSS)
C/o Delhi Science Forum, Khasra No.275,
West End Road,
Saidulajab, New Delhi - 110030

STATEMENT ON THE THOOTHUKUDI KILLINGS

The Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) & the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) express their shock and dismay at the mindless killing of 12 protestors in Thoothukudi, who were demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant over pollution concerns. BGPMUS & BGPSSS, as organizations representing the cause of the victims of the Bhopal gas leak disaster of 02/03 December 1984, are acutely aware of the grievous damage that toxic gases and contaminants could inflict on people and the environment. The alarming developments at Thoothukudi is a reminder that even 34 years after the Bhopal disaster adequate precautions have not been taken by the State agencies to prevent industries from polluting the environment and to safeguard the people from toxic gases and other contaminants.

Sterlite Copper, the 1200 tonne per day (400,000 tonne per year) copper smelter complex, is a unit of Vedanta Limited – a subsidiary of the London-based multi-national Vedanta Resources Public Limited Company. It was established in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, in 1997, i.e., 13 years after the Bhopal disaster after failing to set-up the same in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, in 1992 due to public protests. While the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) issued a No Objection Certificate in August 1994 contingent upon the company carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) reportedly gave Environmental Clearance to the company in January 1995 even without an EIA. Subsequently, in May 1995, TNPCB issued the Consent to Establish certificate to Sterlite Copper to commence construction. Finally in October 1996, TNPCB issued the License to Operate that enabled Sterlite Copper to begin operations despite non-fulfillment of various requisite safety norms.

The failure to regulate and monitor the use of various toxic chemicals and metals at the plant soon led to contamination of air, soil and water sources in and around the plant. Incidents of toxic gas releases were reported as early as May, July and August 1997. After the matter was brought to the attention of the Madras High Court, under the directions of the Court, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, submitted a Report to the Court in November 1998, which reportedly stated that Sterlite Copper:

  • “had failed to develop a greenbelt;
  • was producing products it was not authorised to;
  • had contaminated the groundwater with arsenic, lead, selenium, arsenic, aluminium and copper;
  • may have tampered with the online air monitors;
  • had caused gas leaks that hurt people in Ramesh Flowers and the TNEB office;
  • had located itself 14 km from notified islands in the Gulf of Mannar, thereby violating the condition laid out in Consent to Establish.”

[Source: Nityanand Jayaraman, “History of Sterlite in Thoothukudi: A story of betrayal by crony regulators” at: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/history-sterlite-thoothukudi-story-betrayal-crony-regulators-78481 (26 March 2018) & “Sterlite – here’s proof: The data on how the smelter is likely cause for water pollution” at: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/sterlite-here-s-proof-data-how-smelter-likely-cause-water-pollution-79055 (05 April 2018)]; Also see: Ilangovan Rajasekaran, “Saga of a struggle” at: http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/saga-of-a-struggle/article10106626.ece#test (27 April 2018)]

As a result, vide Order dated 23 November 1998, the Madras High Court ordered the closure of the factory. However, within a week, the same Court vide Order dated 01 December 1998, modified its earlier Order and allowed the plant to operate and directed NEERI to carry out another study. Since then the plant was forced to close down due to complaints on numerous occasions but subsequently reopened as a result of the conciliatory attitude of the regulatory agencies.

The root of the present crisis can be traced to the year 2010 when the Madras High Court, after acceding to the NEERI report and observing that “The materials on record show that the continuing air pollution being caused by the noxious effluents discharged into the air by the respondent company is having a more devastating effect on the people living in the surroundings”, directed the closure of the plant vide Order dated 28 September 2010. However, after the company went on appeal to the Supreme Court, within three days the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order on 01 October 2010. Later, vide Order dated 02 April 2013, the Supreme Court did impose a fine of Rs.100 crores on the company but allowed it to continue operations. [A company like Sterlite would be more than willing to pay a fine of mere Rs.100 crores than abide by stringent safety norms.] Nevertheless, it is significant that the Supreme Court did make the following observations in its Order dated 02 April 2013:

“The NEERI reports of 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2005 show that the plant of the appellant did pollute the environment through emissions which did not conform to the standards laid down by the TNPCB under the Air Act and through discharge of effluent which did not conform to the standards laid down by the TNPCB under the Water Act …”

The Supreme Court in the same Order also observed that:

“For such damages caused to the environment from 1997 to 2012 and for operating the plant without a valid renewal for a fairly long period, the appellant-company obviously is liable to compensate by paying damages…”

Furthermore the Supreme Court made it clear that:

“By this judgment, we have only set aside the directions of the High Court in the impugned common judgment and we make it clear that this judgment will not stand in the way of the TNPCB issuing directions to the appellant-company, including a direction for closure of the plant, for the protection of environment in accordance with law.”

[See: Supreme Court Order dated 02 April 2013 in Civil Appeal Nos. 2776-2783 of 2013 at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/26352158/

Meanwhile, it may be noted, the company had put forward plans as early as 2010 to double its production capacity to 800,000 tonnes annually. Another major poisonous gas-leak in March 2013 had also forced the District Administration to order the closure of the plant. However, the company was let off the hook after the State government failed to establish the source of the gas leak.

According to Frontline:

“One of the important issues that revived the agitation is people’s concerns over the health hazards posed by environmental pollution. These included breathlessness and other respiratory problems, burning sensation in the eyes and nose, and an increase in the number of cancer cases, all this especially among those living in the vicinity of the plant.”

All sections of the local community, including the influential Merchants Association and the Tuticorin Chamber of Commerce, have come together to oppose the machinations of the company. The entire town and surrounding areas was completely shut down on 24 March 2018 in support of the residents of a local village, who were on a sit-in strike for over 60 days demanding the closure of the plant. Over the last 20 years, the company has been adopting all kinds of dubious tactics to create dissentions within the ranks of the agitators including use of agent provocateurs and unleashing of communal riots. While such wily tactics did create fissures among the aggrieved at times, the entire community in and around Thoothukudi has now resolved to stand up against the company.

It is the failure of the various state agencies, including the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the TNPCB and the State Government, to take timely action and uphold the laws of the land that has resulted in the present crisis. The fact that the local police actually opened fire on 22 & 23 May 2018 with the intension to kill the agitators is indeed alarming. Moreover, the information that one of the policemen, who was involved in the firing, had undergone training in Israel raises serious question about the kind of training that is imparted to them in Israel. Are the Indian policemen being trained in Israel to imbibe the same brutal methods, which the Zionists employ on the hapless Palestinians?

Under the circumstances, BGPMUS & BGPSSS demand: (1) closure of the Sterlite Copper plant until all foolproof safety and monitoring mechanisms are in place; (2) a thorough and detailed investigation into the health status of the population in and around the company; (3) a detailed investigation into the current status of air, soil & ground-water in and around the plant; (4) stringent punishment to all those responsible for failing to implement safety norms and for failing to monitor the violation of safety norms; (5) stringent punishment to all those who willfully violated safety norms; (6) adequate compensation to all the dead and injured as a result of the operation of the plant and in the various agitations; and (7) immediate steps to stop attempts to brutalize the police force by forcing them to undergo dehumanizing training in Israel.

BGPMUS & BGPSSS welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to stay the attempted expansion of the company and to hold public consultation on the matter.

BGPMUS & BGPSSS mourn the senseless loss of lives and convey their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families. We also wish speedy recovery to all the injured.

Abdul Jabbar N.D Jayaprakash

Convener, BGPMUS Co-Convener, BGPSSS

24 May 2018

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4.

[SEE ALSO:

The Economic Times

Why are people against Vedanta’s Sterlite unit in Tuticorin?

ET Online | Updated: May 22, 2018, 06.34 PM IST

After nearly hundreds days of protest demanding closure of Vedanta NSE 2.31 %’s Sterlite NSE 1.04 % Copper unit in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, protesters turned violent, clashing with the police and setting vehicles on fire. At least 8 people have died in police firing. Why are the people protesting? Below is a broad outline of the issue:

The plant

The smelter, which can produce 400,000 tonnes of copper cathode a year, is run by Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit, which is controlled by Vedanta Ltd, a majority-owned subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta. The plant has been shut since March 27, when it was closed as part of a 15-day scheduled maintenance. The company plans to double capacity at the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year.

Pollution board action

During the closure, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board rejected Vedanta’s licence to operate the smelter in April, saying the company had not complied with local environmental laws. Sterlite has challenged the step. The appellate authority of the pollution board has adjourned the next hearing to June 6. The board has accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag in a river and not furnishing reports of groundwater analysis of borewells near the plant. This is not the first time the plant has shut down. It remained shut for weeks in 2013 due to a case at the National Green Tribunal.

Why are people against the smelter?

Residents have been demanding closure of the smelter for the past 100 days, and had announced they would take out a march to the Tuticorin District Collectorate on Tuesday. The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the plant and its proposed expansion. Protesters have alleged that the smelter was polluting ground water in their area. An activist group has 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.

What the company says

P Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper has claimed that the plant had adhered to all conditions imposed by NEERI and the Supreme Court and its facilities would now conform to the benchmarks set by International Finance Corporation (IFC). Maintaining that the plant was not a polluter, the company had offered to open its gates "for people to see for themselves than believe rumours and half-truths." The activists, however, turned down the offer, saying the problem was not what happened inside the inside the factory but the pollution it caused outside.

Those who want the plant to run

The Tuticorin Stevedores’ Association, which handles manual cargo at the V O Chidambaranar Port Trust in Tuticorin, has appealed to the chief minister to take steps to resume copper production at the plant. TSA president T Velsankar says that Sterlite was the single-largest private company handling a consistent annualised volume of about 38 lakh metric tonnes of cargo. The association says the closure of the plant has affected the livelihood of thousands of freight operators, drivers and workers in related industries. Chemical Industries Association and Winding Wire Manufacturers Association have also opposed closure of the plant, saying it would adversely impact thousands of workers as well as small factories that depend on the plant for their business.

Copper prices shoot up

Closure of the plant has led to a spike in copper prices. The plant has the capacity to produce 4 lakh tonnes of copper per year. It has a share of about 35 per cent in the India’s primary copper market and exports mainly to Gulf and Asian countries. India’s copper consumption has been increasing consistently over the last few years. At current local demand growth of 7 per cent to 8 per cent per year, India may turn into a net importer of copper by the year ended March 2020 if no new plant is commissioned, consultancy firm ICRA Ltd said in an April report.]