Residents of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu have been demanding the closure of Vedanta Sterlite Copper unit for the past 100 days. The protests turned violent on 22nd May, the protesters clashed with the police and burned down vehicles. The police too opened fire in which more than 10 people were killed while several others were severely injured. The Tamil Nadu police in order to curb the violence has carried out the largest massacre in the modern history of India. In a major development, today the Madras High court has put a stay on the construction of a new copper smelter by the Sterlite industries. It is very difficult to understand what made the protesters suddenly turn violent on Tuesday. The protesters comprising locals marched towards the Tuticorin District Collectorate yesterday, with the demand of shutting down the Sterlite unit in their area. The protesters allege that the smelter was polluting the groundwater resources and the nearby river by dumping copper slag. An activist group has also accused the company of operating with shorter chimney stacks which increased the harm caused to the environment. This is not the first time the Sterlite unit has faced charges related to pollution of environment, the first instance happened way back in 2013.
In 2013 the plant remained closed after it was charged with polluting the environment by the locals. The case was taken to the National Green Tribunal, when the then Minister of Environment, Jayanti Natarajan gave a green signal to the functioning of the plant. It is the legacy of the Congress government which has led to this crisis. The Congress led UPA government then at the centre could have shut down the plant way back, but it chose to let the plant operate while it continued causing damage to its surroundings. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government which has been in power in Tamil Nadu since 2011 has not done much to control the degrading situations too. The Former CM Late Jayalalithaa was in power when the case went to the NGT, in 2013. Also the Present CM of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K. Palaniswami belongs to AIADMK.
The Vedanta group’s Sterlite plant has remained shut since March 27th. According to a source there had been ongoing talks about the plant doubling in size. This is probably what led the people to openly come out on the streets to protest against the alleged expansion plans. The plant can produce 4,00,000 tones of copper cathode a year which would increase to 8,00,000 tones after the expansion. The anger of the common people, who have to face the ill-effects of the slag released by the company, left them with no other choice but to come out and actively protest against it.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has rejected Vedanta’s licence to operate the Sterling smelter in April, citing breaking of the local environment laws by the company. The Sterling authorities have challenged this move and the next hearing is scheduled on 6th June. The AIADMK government in the state should have taken precautionary measures to avoid damage to life and property during the protests which had been peaceful in nature till date. Compensation being awarded to the families of the dead and those who were injured cannot be enough in this matter. There must be a nexus operating between the AIADMK led state government and Vedanta Sterlite officials. A proper investigation into the matter is required which will reveal the true cause of this massacre which happened at the hands of the police forces in India. This incident will definitely dent the image of AIADMK in the state and will be remembered as a dark spot in the history of India.