Chennai: Sterlite Industries Ltd’s Thoothukudi plant was sealed on Monday after the Tamil Nadu government ordered its permanent closure in the wake of last week’s firing that killed 13 people protesting against the plant.
“Under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act, 1974, in the larger public interest, the government endorses the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and also directs the TNPCB to seal the unit and close the plant permanently," an order from the environment and forests department said.
It also said that under the Article 48 A of the Constitution, “the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country".
Minutes after the government issued the order, Thoothukudi district collector Sandeep Nanduri sealed the Sterlite campus.
Vedanta termed the closure of the plant as an unfortunate development. “We will study the order and decide on the future course of action," the company said in a statement. “We have operated the plant for over 22 years in the most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to the Tuticorin and state’s socio-economic development."
The people of the port town, who have been protesting against Sterlite Industries for over two decades, had intensified their agitation in the last few months, when TNPCB issued ‘consent to establish’ licences to the copper smelting unit for its expansion plans that would double Sterlite’s production to 800,000 metric tonnes per annum.
Sterlite protests: Thoothukudi limping back to normalcy but anguish, pain remain
On 22 May, as thousands marched towards the district collector’s office demanding the closure of the copper smelting unit, the protest turned violent and police opened fire. According to the state government, 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured.
A day after the violence, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court passed an interim order on a public interest litigation (PIL), staying the expansion of the plant. The PIL had demanded cancellation of the environmental clearance, stating that the company had obtained it without conducting a public hearing as prescribed by the Environmental Impact Assessment notification.
The order issued by the state on Monday also highlighted that the TNPCB “did not renew the consent to operate (licence) to Vedanta Ltd’s Copper Smelter Plant" in its order dated 9 April.
Since the last week of March, the unit has remained shut for its annual maintenance, according to the company. TNPCB also disconnected the power supply to the unit on 24 May.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said in Chennai that the state government has decided to shut the plant based on the request of the people who have strongly opposed it.
Earlier in the day, deputy chief minister O. Panneerselvam visited Thoothukudi. Governor Banwarilal Purohit is also expected to review the situation.