8 people have lost their lives by the time this article reaches you, protesting against the expansion of Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. In their 7th month of the protest, thousands of protestors and policemen clashed causing injuries to several.
So what exactly is the cause of this trouble? And why now?
About Sterlite Copper and it’s chairman, Anil Agarwal
The smelter – Sterlite Copper (formerly Sterlite Industries India Ltd.) – is located within the State Industrial Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) complex in Melavittan, Tuticorin district, where it has operated since 1997. There are numerous facilities attached to the smelter, including a refinery, a phosphoric acid plant, a sulphuric acid plant, a copper rod plant and three captive power plants. Sterlite Copper is the Indian copper-producing unit of Vedanta Ltd., a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, the UK-based mining and metals conglomerate. It was founded by Anil Agarwal, an Indian citizen living in London and its current chairman. Agarwal is worth an estimated $3.3 billion.
Copper production, including mining, smelting, and refining, is a hazardous industry that produces toxic byproducts like lead, arsenic and Sulphur oxides that adversely impact water, soil, and air quality. The Sterlite Copper complex is located within 25 km of four of the 21 islands in the Gulf of Mannar, a diverse and sensitive marine ecosystem.
This violates the conditions attached to the ‘Consent to Establish’ issued by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).
Despite evidence that Sterlite’s plant contaminated the groundwater, air, and soil with its effluents and also violated standards of operation, the TNPCB bizarrely consented to the plant in the SIPCOT complex. A 2005 report by NEERI (submitted to the Supreme Court) found high concentrations of copper, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chlorides, and fluorides in a sample of groundwater taken from the plant’s neighborhood.
Sterlite Copper had been trying to expand its production for over a decade in the face of widespread public opposition and legal and environmental hurdles.
If the second plant comes up, life will likely become worse for the villagers as well as the beleaguered city of Thoothukudi.
In 2009, Sterlite Industries obtained an environmental clearance from the MoEFCC to set up a 1,200-tonne per day copper smelting complex in Thoothukudi without any public consultation.
On May 10, 2016, the Madras high court dismissed a writ petition challenging the environment clearance issued by the MoEFCC without a public hearing to Sterlite. The judgment read,
“In view of the consistent stand taken by all the authorities, including SIPCOT, that Sterlite Industries is situated within the SIPCOT complex, we have no difficulty in holding that exemption from public consultation would certainly apply.”
Which basically means, there isn’t a necessity to take public’s opinion on setting up of the plant that would essentially impact their lives negatively.
At various times, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the TNPCB have found evidence that Sterlite contaminated the groundwater, air, and soil with its effluents and also violated standards of operation. A 2005 report by NEERI (submitted to the Supreme Court) found high concentrations of copper, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chlorides, and fluorides in a sample of groundwater taken from the plant’s neighborhood.
Sterlite’s been best friends with political parties anyway
Sterlite has been trying to secure a political leg-up. Sterlite Industries was, in fact, the most generous company amongst all the donors to have paid the Congress Rs 1 crore and Rs 5 crore in 2004-05 and 2009-10 respectively as donations.
Quoting from Vedanta’s 2014-15 annual report:
BJP is not too far away from taking donations from the company as well, BJP received a total of Rs 15 crore from Sterlite Industries, and Rs 7.5 crore from Cairn India – a Vedanta Resources subsidiary – in the FY ending March 31, 2014, the year the Lok Sabha elections were held. Below is a screenshot of Sterlite’s donation as listed on MyNeta.
What’s getting the coverage now, dates back to over 20 years back. And all this while, no politician from Tamil Nadu except Vaiku (Leader of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) has openly supported people.
The Thoothukudi protest is again underlining the conclusion that the nexus between political parties and Sterlite copper is making the real people suffer, either they have to protest and get killed or injured or they have to suffer the consequences of the plant on their daily lives.
If you have any more information on this, or a suggestion on what can fix it, do let us know in the comments section below.
Bringing you independent, solution-oriented and well-researched stories takes us hundreds of hours each month, and years of skill-training that went behind. If our stories have inspired you or helped you in some way, please consider becoming our Supporter.