Thoothukudi protests: TN government endorses permanent closure of Sterlite plant

Amidst the uproar over the police opening fire on unarmed protesters at Sterlite's (now Vedanta) Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi, a PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court calling for action to be taken against those responsible.

Violence erupted Tuesday in Tamil Nadu state at a long-running demonstration demanding the closure of the smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources which residents say is causing environmental damage. Police said they were compelled to respond with live ammunition after demonstrators pelted police with stones, attacked a government building, and set vehicles on fire.

"Under sections of (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".

A court on Wednesday put a temporary halt to Vedanta's much-delayed plan to almost double capacity at the Thoothukudi plant, which would make it one of the biggest copper smelters in the world.

The resistance came to a head Tuesday when police stopped a crowd of thousands from protesting outside the factory.

"The police had to take action under unavoidable circumstances to protect public life and property", said K. Palaniswami, the top official in Tamil Nadu state. However, following protests, the Madras high court on Wednesday, May 23, stayed the expansion. "Therefore, we demand that the chief minister and the DGP resign immediately", Stalin said, reported ANI.

A protest against the Industrial giant was planned for Saturday afternoon, by the Foil Vedanta (a grassroots activist group centred in London but linking into domestic campaign groups) and Tamil People in the United Kingdom (a group representing several thousand members across Britain).

The smelter, operated by an Indian subsidiary of London-based Vedanta Resources, has been repeatedly shut down over pollution complaints and was fined £10m in 2013 for breaching environmental norms and operating without the consent of the state pollution board.

Agarwal, who holds a 71.4 percent stake in Vedanta, told the Financial Times in an interview published on Wednesday that he plans to step back from running the company.

Rahul Gandhi, the national leader of the opposition Congress party, has called the deaths "a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism".

The families of each victim would be offered one million rupees ($14,700) compensation, he added. The company moved the Appellate Authority against this, and the next hearing is on June 6.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's most industrialised and prosperous states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly in the past.

  • Jon Douglas