By Prarthana Mitra
The Madras High Court on Wednesday passed a verdict to stay the construction and expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite plant at the Toothukudi unit.
Ongoing protests in Tamil Nadu against the proposed expansion of a copper smelter of Sterlite Copper, took a violent turn earlier this week. Amidst the agitation over pollution concerns that entered its 100th day on Tuesday, police violence claimed 13 lives, leaving several others severely injured.
Here’s what happened
The stay order came after police killed 13 people amid protests led by residents in the port city of Tuticorin.
“We fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the protesters. But the mob continued to pelt stones and bombs. They were setting fire to vehicles,” a police officer told the AFP news agency.
Tamil Nadu chief minister EK Palaniswami defended the police saying they fired in self-defence, even blaming “certain political parties”, “NGOs” and “anti-social elements” for the violence.
Supreme Court lawyer G.S. Mani, has filed a writ petition the Court seeking registration of FIR & investigation by the CBI against #Thoothukudi Collector, Superintendent of Police & other police officials.
— ANI (@ANI) May 24, 2018
“My first priority is to bring back normalcy. As far as the violence, the shooting and who gave the orders for the shooting is concerned, an inquiry will be done by a judge appointed by the Tamil Nadu government,” district collector Sandeep Nanduri told the Times of India.
The State Pollution Control Board on Wednesday restricted internet access in the region and disconnected power supply to Sterlite Copper’s smelter after finding out that the unit was “carrying out activities to resume production” despite being asked to hold until its licence to operate is renewed, reported ANI.
— ANI (@ANI) May 24, 2018
The incident has sparked nationwide outrage, especially from the opposition, with Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad comparing it to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. DMK working president MK Stalin was detained by police after staging a protest outside the state secretariat. His party has announced a state-wide ‘bandh’ on Friday to protest against the killings.
The case of People vs. Vedanta-Sterlite
Vedanta’s plans in the Tuticorin region have always been met with a steely reserve. Controversies have followed the Sterlite Copper unit, ever since it commenced operation in 1997. Residents protesting against it for years have alleged that the copper smelter has caused severe environmental damage to the land’s soil, water and air. Citing issues like disposal of copper waste and effluents from the operational unit, protestors have been demanding its permanent closure.
This is not the first time the plant has faced closure. In 2013, it was shut down for two weeks, reports the Economic Times, due to a case at the National Green Tribunal.
The revival of the agitation is attributed to the brownfield expansion of the plant, meant to double the smelter’s capacity to 8,00,000 tonnes per year. The plant was shut down in March as part of a 15-day scheduled maintenance, during which the state government rejected Vedanta’s licence to operate the smelter in April on environmental grounds, with the hearing scheduled in June. P Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper insists that the plant had adhered to all conditions.
In the wake of the violent protests, Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal condoled the deaths of 13 people, saying, “I am very sad to hear the incident… This was absolutely unfortunate. My full sympathy is with the families.”
Agarwal further added that continuing operations at the plant would only happen in accordance with the ‘wish’ of the community. “I am totally committed for the community, people at large, and with their wish, and with their prosperity we would like to continue this business,” he said.