It has been almost three years since the closure of Thoothukudi ‘s Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu. And now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and an oxygen crisis, we understand just how disastrous the closure was.
Vedanta group which owns the shuttered Thoothukudi plant has offered to help the government with oxygen woes and bridge the supply crisis that the nation is facing amidst a steep surge in COVID-19 cases. The company has written separate letters to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary regarding its offer.
Vedanta has revealed that the Thoothukudi plant has two oxygen plants with a combined capacity to produce 1,050 tonnes of oxygen per day. In the letter, Pankaj Kumar, CEO, Sterlite Copper, said, “We would like to now offer these facilities for your use towards ensuring that there is no lack of this vital commodity in the nation.”
The letter added, “We would be grateful to be allowed this opportunity to support the nation’s needs. Our staff stand prepared to get these two plants operational in the shortest possible time and begin dispatching oxygen to the critical areas as per your direction.”
The letter added that the oxygen facilities are presently shut down following the orders passed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the State government, shutting down the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi.
With Vedanta’s offer, one ought to look back at the 2018 protests which actually led to the closure of the copper plant. At that time, there were widespread protests against the Thoothukudi Copper plant at a local level. The protesters alleged that the copper smelter was polluting the groundwater resources and the nearby river by dumping copper slag. An activist group also accused the company of operating with shorter chimney stacks which increased the harm caused to the environment.
However, things took an ugly turn on May 22, 2018- the hundredth day of the anti-Sterlite protests. 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 protests turned violent, left-liberals ran a major smear campaign against Vedanta. Ultimately, the Tamil Nadu government ordered the Sterlite Copper plant, which accounted for 40 per cent of India’s copper, to be shut down. The Sterlite Copper plant has since remained closed, with no visible signs of its reopening.
Now, we do know that the Sterlite plant is capable of producing oxygen at a time when people in various parts of the country are losing lives due to lack of supply. Just imagine if the Sterlite Copper plant was not shut down in the first place.
It is not as if some serious environmental damage has been scientifically proven against the Sterlite plant, rather the plant was shut down merely because of violent protests and the left-liberal campaign against it. Had the Sterlite plant not been shut down, it would have played a big role in bridging the gap between rising oxygen demand across the nation and the sheer lack of supply of the essential commodity.