May 28, 2018
Chennai : Six days after police firing on peaceful Sterlite protesters killed 13 of them, Tamil Nadu government on Monday ordered the full and permanent closure of the controversial Sterlite Copper smelting plant at Tuticorin, some 630 km south of here.
In an order issued by the Tamil Nadu government said that in the larger public interest the government endorsed the closure direction by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also directed the Board “ seal the unit and close the plant permanently.”
The Tamil Nadu government action came after a huge hue cry across the nation after its police armed with automatic weapons and sniper rifles aimed at and shot peacefully protesting villagers from Tuticorin and neighbouring areas on May 22 and killed 12 of them. In another round of firing the following day, the police killed another protester bringing the toll to 13 and with several persons injured this tally is likely to go higher.
The Tamil Nadu government came under heavy fire from the opposition and from NGOs across the country for allowing “trigger happy” police to fire at civilian protesters to control them without following the protocol. A senior police official, since retired, said that the Tamil Nadu police was guilty of using extreme force without provocation and using sniper rifles and automatic weapons was a strict no, no in policing work.
Caught on the wrong foot, the government was at pains to explain as to why it did not engage with the protesting villagers for over three months and allowed the situation to build up. The villagers were protesting the company’s plans to double the capacity, which meant doubling the threat it posed to the well-being of the people living nearby and environmental damage it was causing to the Tuticorin region.
On Monday, the government said that the pollution board had not renewed the consent to Ms Vedanta Limited to operate its Copper Smelter Plant. Subsequently, after the protests and killing the board also issued closure notice and stoppage of power supply to the plant on May 24.
Asserting that the government will uphold the Constitution, the government order said “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
It further said, “under Sections 18(1) (b) of the Water Act, 1974 in the larger public interest, the government endorse the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently.”
The protesters were seeking the closure of the Vedanta’s controversial plant that they alleged had flouted environmental norms ever since it came into being in the 1990s.
The villagers were protesting for a long time against the plant as it had released effluents into the region nearby and was responsible for the spread of cancer among the villagers residing in the surroundings.
The news of permanent closure was greeted with cautious welcome and the activists wondered if the Vedanta group would get some legal remedy and re-start the plant.