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Tamil Nadu’s Battle against Sterlite



For more than three months now, civilians in the region of Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu have been protesting against the Sterlite Industries branch there. The company, which is a subsidiary of the Vedanta Resources, is located in Mumbai, but primarily engages in copper mining and manufacturing of copper products in Tuticorin. The plant also includes a refinery, a phosphoric acid plant and a sulphuric acid plant.

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) found evidence of Sterlite contaminating the groundwater, air, and soil in the region with its effluents and the company was also violating standards of operation. The Supreme Court had fined the industry ₹100 crore for the same in 2013. While the TNPCB re-ordered a closure of the Tuticorin copper smelting plant in 2013, on grounds of leakage of gas, renewed protests began in March this year in retaliation to Sterlite’s plans of not only re-opening the closed plan but also expanding to a second smelting complex.

The residents of Tuticorin have long been facing the effects of gas leakage from these plants in the form of skin irritants, damage to genes, nausea, and trouble in breathing. The levels of emissions of sulphur dioxide went off the charts.

While the company has denied any sort of charges, on Tuesday, Sterlite and Vedanta made headlines for their poor handling of the matter, and next to them, made Tamil Nadu’s police a negative press appearance for opening gun fire on the protesting civilians. Matters went out of hand and 10-11 civilians were killed by the police while an additional 6 were hospitalized in a critical state.

On Wednesday, a 22 year-old man was killed by a rubber bullet and four others were injured as the TN police continued to inflict violence for a second on the protesters. According to the police, the mob did not disperse after they fired ammunition in the air to scare them, and instead people started pelting stones and bombs on the police, which in turn forced them to start firing rubber bullets. Two police vehicle were torched and people were baton-charged.

Now the superintendents of police in the Tuticorin and Nilgiris districts have been removed and so has been the collector for Tuticorin, according to a government order issued late Wednesday night.

Currently, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has ordered Sterlite to halt the construction of the second complex. The NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) has also asked TN chief secretary and DGP to give it a report within two weeks.