Why are people protesting against Vedanta's Sterlite unit in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin?

Eleven people were killed in a police action in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin after months-long protests for the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in the port city over pollution concerns turned violent on Tuesday.

Anti Sterlite protest in Tuticorin: Why are people protesting against Vedanta's Sterlite unit in Tuticorin
Smoke billows out of burning vehicles after a violent protest demanding closure of Vedantas Sterlite Copper unit entered the 100th day, in Tuticorin, on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
By: ABP News Bureau
Updated: 22 May 2018 10:57 PM
NEW DELHI: Eleven people were killed in a police action in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin after months-long protests for the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in the port city over pollution concerns turned violent on Tuesday.

Over 5000 protesters gathered at a locality to demand the permanent closure of the copper smelter, which has been opposed by locals for polluting their environment. The agitators hurled stones set vehicles and public property on fire, the police said.


What is Vedanta's Sterlite unit ?

Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity plant in Tuticorin. Vedanta Limited is part of Vedanta Resources, one of the world’s largest mining and metals conglomerates. The smelter has been at the centre of controversy right from its inception in 1996.

Why are people protesting against it?

There have been widespread protests against the establishment and operation of the Sterlite copper smelting plant since the mid 90s as the residents were demanding its closure alleging that it was polluting the area, and leading to severe health problems besides depleting the water table.

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has found evidence that Sterlite has contaminated the groundwater, air and soil.

In 2010, the Madras High Court directed the closure of the smelting plant for failing to comply with environmental norms. Sterlite had against the order moved the Supreme Court, which stayed the high court's order in 2013 but asked the company to pay Rs. 100 crore as compensation for polluting land and water.

The Supreme Court had in 2013 said: "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."

In March 2013, The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered the closure of the plant on grounds of leakage of noxious gas which led to nausea and skin irritation among a section of people. The locals celebrated the closure order and threatened to revolt in case it is allowed to re-function after the incident.

Recent protests against Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit

In March 2018, the locals took to the streets demanding the closure of the plant and a halt to Sterlite's expansion plans. Actor Kamal Haasan, who recently announced his entry into politics, has also joined the protesters to express solidarity with them.

Sterlite Copper unit was shut down on March 29 this year for 15 days for “maintenance work.” The firm has since then placed advertisements in dailies claiming that it has not violated any norms against the background of continuing protests. As the protests grew stronger, Sterlite Copper unit was shut down on March 29 for 15 days for annual “maintenance work.”

The plant still remains shut as Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rejected Sterlite's application for renewal of consent to operate (CTO). The application has been rejected after the state pollution control board found that the factory has failed to adhere to safety measures. The CTO of Sterlite Copper unit has expired on March 31, 2018. The closure is now indefinite till the renewal is granted by the pollution board.

The Madras High Court had on April 4 directed the police to provide security for the plant after the widespread agitation. The company now plans to double capacity at the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per annum.

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