One allowed, the other party nurtured Sterlite

One allowed, the other party nurtured Sterlite

The battle of one-upmanship between the Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK, on who’s the saviour of the masses is perpetual in Tamil Nadu politics. The verbal duel between the two parties on who allowed the controversial Sterlite Copper to set up its smelting unit in Thoothukudi is keeping the political pot boiling. In reality, both parties have played active roles in allowing Sterlite Copper, which was driven away from Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra due to public opposition, in Tamil Nadu, approving its expansion plans and turning a blind eye to its violations.

The DMK seems to have perfected what the AIADMK began. Both had flirted with Sterlite on more than one occasion and also looked away when the company operated without the mandatory licence for days and, at times, even months together, allege activists.   

If the AIADMK’s late J Jayalalitha laid a red carpet for billionaire Anil Agarwal to lay the foundation stone for Sterlite in 1994, it was under the DMK regime, in 1996, that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rolled out the No Objection Certificate (NOC) overriding opposition from activists and locals.

In fact, the DMK, which is at the forefront of the political side of the anti-Sterlite protests currently, had sanctioned the order for allotment of land for Sterlite’s expansion in 2009 and 2010. Earlier, in 2001-2006, the Jayalalitha government had allotted Sterlite land for expanding its plant and the current dispensation did nothing to pacify the villagers, who erupted against the company’s Rs 2,500-crore expansion plans in mid-February, until their hitherto peaceful protests turned violent on May 22. Now, they accuse each other of betraying the people. 

Though the people of Thoothukudi alleged noxious gas leaks and degradation of public health due to pollutants emanating from Sterlite for many years, neither party ever came to the aid of the people, said Prof. Fathima Babu, who was one of the first to go to court against the company’s expansion plans.

“We all know their political gimmick. If one party (AIADMK) allowed construction, the other party (DMK) nurtured Sterlite. People are not fools to believe their statements,” she said.

Retired judge of Madras High Court Justice D Hariparanthaman, who is now actively involved in the anti-Sterlite movement, too, said both parties are to blame for the current mess. “It is unfortunate that Tamil Nadu allowed Sterlite to set up its smelting unit in the first place. It was Jayalalitha who did so, but two years later, when DMK was in power, Vedanta became comfortable with that party as well,” Justice Hariparanthaman said.

He also recalled Sterlite being actively supported by the DMK regime in 2010 in the Madras High Court when it was hearing a petition seeking that Sterlite be shut down. “In 2010, the state government headed by the DMK and the Congress-led central government were together in their arguments that the company should run,” he said.

The reality is, both the AIADMK and DMK supported Sterlite on various occasions and, at times, the company even dictated terms to the governments, the activists alleged.

“On May 18, 2018, when the Madras High Court was hearing the case on Sterlite, the company had sought implementation of prohibitory orders in Thoothukudi to quell the protests. How can a corporate seek imposition of Section 144? This gives rise to questions over whether corporates control governments,” Justice Hariparanthaman said.

Environmental activists S P Udayakumar and Nithyanand Jayaraman do not mince words when they accuse the environment regulator TNPCB of acting according to the whims and fancies of the political dispensation. They say Sterlite could not have gotten away with its violations without the connivance of TNPCB officials. “TNPCB is hopelessly corrupt and, most of the times, hand-in-glove with violators. When a delicate situation arises, they play the good cop, but it is the most corrupt institution,” Udayakumar alleged.