Why Thoothukudi wants Sterlite Copper to be shut?

Last Updated : 15 December 2018, 09:28 IST

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Ever since Sterlite Copper operations were begun in 1996, it has been at the centre of a raging row with villagers around its sprawling factory over purported noxious gas leaks and bad effluent management. The company had shut its operations temporarily several times in the past two decades and had even operated without mandatory licence for years in the past.

The latest protests began in mid-February when villagers of A Kumarettiyapuram packed their bags with their belongings and camped near the VOC Nagar bus terminus in the heart of Thoothukudi, a port city 608 km from here, against the expansion plans of Sterlite Copper. Their demand was not just dropping of the expansion of the plant, but closing down of the existing one as well.

Though the protests went unnoticed for more than a month, the villagers received a groundswell of support on March 24 when 20,000 people from the city marched in support of them holding torch lights and mobile phones with flashlights on. Since then, there was no looking back for the agitators as the protesters received support from political parties and newbie politicians like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.

As the protests reached its crescendo, Vedanta that owns Sterlite Copper downed the shutters of the plant on March 27 for 15 days for annual maintenance. But, the plant still remains shut as Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rejected Sterlite's application for renewal of consent to operate (CTO). The TNPCB refused to renew the CTO that expired on March 31, 2018 citing non-adherence to agreed safety measures and effluent management by the Vedanta-owned company.

"TNPCB's 2018 data confirms groundwater pollution around Sterlite Factory. Results of analyses of 15 groundwater samples collected by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Thoothukudi district administration on 28 March, 2018, reveal that all water sources are polluted, in violation of the Bureau of Indian Standards norms for one or more drinking water parameters,” environmentalist Nithyanand Jayaraman, who has been at the forefront of anti-Sterlite protest, said.

He further added that levels of lead, a neurotoxin heavy metal, which is particularly toxic to children, were found to be between 4 and 55 times higher than levels considered safe for drinking.

The company that employs more than 2,000 people operated without mandatory licence for eight years in the past. The villagers have been vehemently opposing the noxious gas leaks and bad effluent management for nearly 20 years and say that the expansion of the copper plant would further wreck their lives.

The company shot into limelight when the Supreme Court in 2013 fined a whopping Rs 100 crore for polluting the area following a gas leak from the plant. However, Vedanta Group said in a statement that the plant has received the necessary regulatory clearances for expansion and it will ensure the development and well-being of all the communities around its operations.

Published 22 May 2018, 12:37 IST

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