Thirteen people have lost their lives in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi (also called Tuticorin) ever since the protests for the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant turned violent on Tuesday.
Locals have been demanding the permanent closure of the Tuticorin unit of the smelter copper plant for over three months now. In view of the unrest, Section 144 of the CrPC has been invoked in and around the unit as per the orders of the Madras High Court.
Sterlite Copper represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a four lakh tonne per annum plant at Tuticorin. But the project which is at the centre of controversy only set its base in Tamil Nadu after facing much opposition in Gujarat, Goa, and Maharashtra. As Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) pointed in a press statement, the plan was rejected in the three states because of its potential to create environmental hazards.
The CSE said that Vedanta had flouted norms while getting an environmental clearance for its Tuticorin plant by misrepresenting facts and gave a Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report without conducting any public hearing. "Firstly, it said that the plant is not located within 25 kilometre of ecologically-sensitive area, which was found to be wrong as the plant is located near Munnar Marine National Park," CSE said.
The Tuticorin plant, which finally began its operations in 1997, has also allegedly flouted enviromental norms on several occasions. "With such a poor track record on environment for nearly two decades, a plant like Sterlite's copper unit, would not have been allowed to operate anywhere in the world. However, not only does it continue to operate in Tuticorin, but is also planning to double its capacity," CSE's Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan said.
CPM leader K Kanagaraj, in his petition before the Madras High Court in 2010, had held that the said plant was originally proposed to be set up at Gujarat and Goa. It was only shifted to Maharashtra due to local opposition in both the states.
In 1992, almost 500 acre was alloted to the company by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) to set up the smelter in Ratnagiri.
The locals, including farmers, strongly objected to commissioning of smelter plant fearing effects of its pollution
Quoting Sterlite officials, Economic Times reported that the company had spent about Rs 100 crore on the project till 15 July, 1993 when the district collector directed it to suspend construction work because of the opposition.
In 2010, local authorities directed the company to either diversify its project to some non-polluting activity or surrender the plot to MIDC. In 2013, Ratnagiri District Court issued an eviction order, which the Bombay High Court later stayed.
Sterlite Copper said on Thursday that Tuticorin unit is currently non-functional and the company is awaiting approval from the authorities to resume operations at the site.
The facility, according to Sterlite, has been shut since 27 March when the company took up annual scheduled maintenance. The firm's application to renew its licence to operate the copper smelter facility was rejected by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.
With inputs from agencies