Amid massive protests against its expansion, Thoothukudi copper smelter plant shuts down for 15 days for maintenance

Indefinite protests continue as Toothukudi comes to a halt; AMMK begins signature campaign; activists allege environmental clearance given without public

Published: 29th March 2018 02:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2018 08:18 AM   |  A+A-

Thousands of people gathered on the streets of Thoothukudi to protest against expansion of copper plant. (Photo | Twitter)

By Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI, CHENNAI: As the indefinite protest of the Kummareddiapatti villagers against the expansion plans of copper smelter unit reached the 44th day on Wednesday, a source attached to Thoothukudi unit said that the smelter would remain closed for 15 days. He added that the unit would be closed till April 10 owing to maintenance activities which is conducted every four years.

Sources said that the city (Toothukudi) almost came to a standstill with huge crowd participating in a stir. Extending support to the protest, CPM state executive committee members Kanagaraj visited the protestors at Kummareddiapatti village on Wednesday. Later, he told reporters that CPM would lay siege to the company on on April 4.

Meanwhile, students of VOC College continued their protest in front of the college for the second day demanding the closure of the unit. The residents of Athimarapatti also withdrew their wards from Kushi education centre run by the company.

Adding momentum to the agitation, R Henry Thomas of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam ( TTV Dhinakaran’s faction) kick-started a signature campaign demanding the immediate closure of the smelter unit in Thoothukudi.

The aim was to collect at least 1 lakh signature before March 31 and submit it to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), he said. Thoothukudi Sub-Collector MS Prashanth also inspected the premises and the surrounding areas on Wednesday. Water samples were also collected from the surrounding villages for examination.

Violated norms?

The agitation got more teeth with fresh evidence pointing towards alleged fraud. The company owners, Union Environment Ministry, SIPCOT and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) have all allegedly submitted false representations to the Madras High Court about the location of proposed copper smelter to help the company obtain environmental clearance without public consultation.

On January 1, 2009, the Union Environment Ministry granted clearance to the company exempting the 1,200-tonne-per-day copper smelter complex from public consultation arguing that the project site fell within the existing SIPCOT industrial complex. The TNPCB too followed suit and granted consent to the establish in 2016.

However, a report titled “Toxic Conspiracy: How governments are helping the company violate the law” by environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman says that the proposed project site is not located within the existing 1,038-acre SIPCOT industrial Complex as claimed by the unit and abetted by government bodies all these years. The project site is located within a 1,616-acre parcel of land that is only now being proposed to be developed as a standalone Tuticorin Industrial Park by SIPCOT. Approvals for this project have not yet been obtained. Development of this project has not commenced, Nityanand Jayarama said at a press conference after releasing the report.

He said the coordinates for the project area given in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report and survey numbers submitted by the company match survey numbers of the yet-to-be developed Industrial Park.

Jayaraman claimed that the official correspondence between the company, SIPCOT and MoEF showed that SIPCOT had allotted 324.53 acres of land even before SIPCOT sought Terms of Reference (ToR) for the preparation of an EIA for 1,616-acre Tuticorin Industrial Park.

Attempts by the Express to contact government and Sterlite officials went in vain.

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