The Sterlite protest took an ugly turn on 22nd May. Residents of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu have been demanding the closure of Vedanta Sterlite Copper unit. 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.
After the violence and immense pressure generated by vested interest groups, Tamil Nadu government took a populist decision and ordered the shutdown of Vedanta Copper Sterlite plant which used to produce almost half the country’s copper. This hurried decision of the Tamil Nadu state government affected the businesses of many and lots livelihoods got affected. Now many of these are demanding that the plant should be reopened. Contract workers of the plant, who are now without any job, petitioned State Cooperative Minister to re-open the plant. According to Swarajya report, As much as 1,100 direct employees, around 5,000 contract workers and at least 10,000 people, including suppliers and transporters, have been affected by the sterlite plant’s closure.
The plant’s closure has also badly affected other industries that were dependent on Sterlite for by-products like sulphuric acid, phosphorous acid and gypsum. The price of sulphuric acid has tripled and the price of phosphoric acid has also increased substantially. Closure of the sterlite plant has affected 29 companies directly and 150 companies indirectly. The companies are facing risk of survival since their turnover has been badly affected.
Rightlog had earlier in its report pointed out the negative consequences of the closure of sterlite plant.
Locals also now have had a change of heart. Just few days back, fishermen from Therespuram in Thoothukudi had claimed that they have nothing to do with violence which broke out on 22nd May and the fishermen have further submitted a petition to the district legal services authority accusing advocates belonging to a far left fringe group, Makkal Adhikaram to have instigated some innocent youths. Ten days after anti-sterlite violence broke out, six members of Makkal Adhikaram were arrested under the National Security Act.
Many antisocial elements were involved in making the protests violent. Earlier reports too had suggested the involvement of certain separatist outfits, the naxals and the church in instigating the violence. Tamil Nadu government cracked down on the cadre of the pro LTTE outfit, Naam Tamilar Party. The party’s organizer, Vinayarasu was arrested on the charges of setting the employees quarters of UK based Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi on fire.
Swarajya magazine had earlier reported that the churches in the region had appealed to its members to support the Thoothukudi protest. The magazine had also reported that one of the mobs, comprising of around 5,000 people, had gathered in front of one of the churches in the region before it proceeded to wreak havoc. The article goes on to claim that according to the Intelligence Bureau, there were Naxal elements among the protestors too, and that the police had been tipped off about this.
All these reports clearly debunk the myth that this was people’s uprising and expose the anti-sterlite racket completely. It was actually a meticulously planned and executed riot by few groups with their selfish interests at cost of innocent lives of poor people. The closure of the plant seemed to be the objective of all those who had organized and instigated the protest. The plant which produces almost half the country’s copper is nothing less than a national asset.
Let’s hope that the government complies with the demand of locals to re-open the plant as quickly as possible so that normalcy prevails again. People have seen through these games. Let us hope the government does too.