Sterlite Protest explainer: Recapping the what, why and how of Thoothukudi's battle with a copper smelting plant

Here is a quick recap of all you need to know about the Sterlite copper smelting plant and the ongoing protests against it in Thoothukudi.

Published: 22nd May 2018 09:59 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th June 2018 10:48 AM   |  A+A-

On the 100th day of the Sterlite Protest, thousands marched towards the Thoothukudi district collectorate, despite the imposition of section 144. (EPS | Karthik Alagu)

By Online Desk

At least ten people died and over 50 were injured on Tuesday as police opened fire on thousands protesting against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu.

The Sterlite protests, which entered its 100th day took an ugly turn when protestors marched to the Thoothukudi district collectorate, despite the imposition of section 144.

Here is a quick recap of all you need to know about the Sterlite copper smelting plant and the protests:

What is Sterlite?

Sterlite was the first company set up by UK-based Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal in India before he launched Vedanta Resources on the LSE in 2003, where it is now a multinational with operations across India and Africa.

In Thoothukudi, Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit set up a copper smelting plant, one of India's biggest, in 1996.

Why are thousands protesting against the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi?

Two major reasons why the locals are demanding for the closure of the Sterlite plant are pollution and rise in health problems among people residing in villages close to the plant.

A Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board affidavit says 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 owing to the suspected increase in the iron content in groundwater.

Women in the villages surrounding the unit have inexplicably high incidence of menstrual disorders, like menorrhagia and dysmenorrhea.

There was also fear of arsenic-laced wastewater from Sterlite plant reportedly flooding  Silverpuram, Meelavittan and Kaluthaikuttan tanks.

The TNPCB also very recently said for the past five years, the Sterlite plant has been disposing of thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste without authorisation.

How big is the Sterlite Protest?

In a massive movement similar to the 2017 'Jallikattu Protest', thousands of people in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi are unanimously protesting on the streets, demanding the closure of the Sterlite Plant since March, this year.

The major protests broke out after villagers petitioned the district collector several times seeking closure of the unit, but no action had been taken, reported PTI.

In February, after top district officials led by Sub-Collector MS Prasanth failed to reach an understanding, around 250 people who went on an indefinite fast protesting against the Sterlite Copper plant and its proposed expansion, were arrested.

The Sterlite Protest, in fact, has reached as far as London, with a large number of British Tamils carrying traditional 'parai' drums holding a protest outside the home of Vedanta Group chief Anil Agarwal there on March 29.

Vedanta is embroiled in controversies overseas as well. Its subsidiary Konkola Copper mines has been sued in English courts by Zambian villagers for polluting their water and destroying their livelihood through their mining operations.

What is Vedanta Sterlite saying?

The company has always strongly denied the charges of pollution against it. A Vedanta group release says "Zero discharge systems, utilisation of waste for sustainable applications, energy efficient systems and stringent emission monitoring are the hallmark of Sterlite."

Sterlite has been in a constant tussle with the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over allegations of causing environmental damage.

Recently, the TNPCB issued an order turning down Sterlite’s application to renew its Consent to Operate, saying it continued to generate and dispose of hazardous waste without valid authorisation.

However, senior counsel PS Raman appearing for Sterlite alleged that the pollution board acted based on newspaper reports and public outcry, rather than relying upon scientific material available.

“There is not a single piece of paper available till date, which suggests Sterlite has caused ambient air and water pollution. We have achieved zero liquid discharge and there is no substantial evidence to prove some of the health problems faced by local communities was because of Sterlite, considering there are several red category industries in the industrial cluster,” Raman said.

(With inputs from Express News Service)

India Matters


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  • T M Ramesh

    it seems TNPCB is NOT doing its duty properly & to be hauled up for poor service. On the other hand Sterlite is having problems even in Africa operations & being accused of polluting. One cannot FOOL all the people all the time. Central government should intervene & put a full stop to the apprehensions & win confidence of the local folks !
    5 years ago reply
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