CHENNAI: Public protest against Vedanta Limited’s Sterlite Copper seems to be yielding results. For the first time, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), which is often flayed by anti-Sterlite campaigners, has acknowledged complaints of deteriorating health of people residing in villages surrounding the smelter plant in Thoothukudi.
Meanwhile, TNPCB Appellate Authority on Friday refused to grant any interim relief. Justice T Sudanthiram, Chairman of the Authority, after hearing the impleading petitions filed by MDMK general secretary Vaiko and two other residents of Thoothukudi in the appeal filed by Sterlite, posted the case for May 17 for arguments leaving the unit to remain shut.
Arvindh Pandian, appearing for TNPCB, while vehemently opposing Sterlite’s interim plea to reopen the smelter plant, that remains shut since last one month, submitted an affidavit prepared by Joint Chief Environmental Engineer R Kannan before the authority that charges Sterlite of blatant non-compliance and misleading the facts, besides exhaustively speaking on alarming rise in number of persons being diagnosed with cases of asthma, pharyngitis, sinusitis and other respiratory tract infections and ENT morbidity suspected to be due to atmospheric pollution.
The affidavit, a copy of which is available with Express, says “Strangely enough the respiratory diseases were observed to be prevailing more in communities surrounding the unit than the State’s average according to an expert report.”
The document also talks about rusty-red water flowing from taps which is suspected to have occurred due to increase in the iron content in groundwater. Women in the villages surrounding the unit having inexplicably high incidence of menstrual disorders, like menorrhagia and dysmenorrhea. There was fear of arsenic laced wastewater from Sterlite plant reportedly flooding Silverpuram, Meelavittan and Kaluthaikuttan tanks.
The pollution control board has also reminded the Appellate Authority on how Vedanta and its subsidiary Konkola Copper mines are currently being sued in English courts by Zambian villagers for polluting their water and destroying their livelihood through their mining operations.
Senior counsel PS Raman appearing for Sterlite, submitted before the Appellate Authority that four out of five grounds on which pollution control board has rejected renewal of Consent to Operate (CTO) have already been complied with. On the issue of operating without valid hazardous waste authorisation, he blamed the board for keeping the renewal application pending. Raman told Express that the company had lost a revenue of `1,200 cr ever since it was closed.
Countering this, Pandian stood firm by TNPCB decision to reject the CTO renewal. The TNPCB affidavit has detailed the Sterlite’s wrongdoings for each of the five grounds.
Ugly scenes in court hall
Ugly scenes were witnessed in the court hall with Sterlite counsel PS Raman and Vaiko engaging in a war of words. Vaiko pointed a finger at Raman objecting to use of some of the expressions. Raman shot back. Justice T Sudanthiram brought the situation under control.