Home / Industry / Manufacturing /  Tamil Nadu: Protests against copper plant in Thoothukudi intensify

Chennai:When thousands of people gathered at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu on Saturday demanding the closure of a copper smelting factory in the coastal town, it was only the latest in a series of protests going back over 20 years.

As traders’ associations joined the stir, shops remained closed in Thoothukudi in a 24-hour shutdown. The protest gained momentum in the evening when thousands came together at the Chidambara Nagar bus stand to express solidarity to the people of Kumarettiyapuram village, who have been protesting, claiming that a nearby copper plant owned by Sterlite Industries Ltd has contaminated the groundwater and caused respiratory problems.

Last month, when villagers launched an indefinite stir against the firm’s proposed expansion plans and demanded its closure, over 250 protesters were arrested, and later released.

“Apart from environmental damages, the Sterlite industry has caused various health hazards. Cancer and respiratory diseases have become very common in this town," said Fathima Babu, one of the activists leading the agitation.

On Monday, opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) leader M.K. Stalin urged the Tamil Nadu government to shut down Sterlite Industries. While environmentalists have been blaming the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for having failed to follow the norms, Stalin accused the state government body of failing to take steps to prevent pollution.

A group of protesters laid siege to the district collector’s office in Thoothukudi on Monday.

According to the company’s website, it operates a 400,000 metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) production capacity copper smelter with associate facilities such as refinery and copper rod plant, sulphuric acid plant of more than 1.2 million MTPA and phosphoric acid plant of 220,000 MTPA at State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (SIPCOT), Thoothukudi. Sterlite also operates a 160 megawatts (MW) coal-based power plant in the southern coastal town of Tamil Nadu.

Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of the London-based Vedanta Resources Plc, has been in the middle of legal battles since it began operations in 1996 and has seen agitations by farmers, fishermen, traders and various others from different walks of life. Political parties and environmental organisations have fought sustained legal battles against copper industry.

In 2010, citing violations in environmental norms and pollution control, the Madras high court— in a case filed against Sterlite Industries in 1996—ordered the company to halt operations. The company obtained a stay from the Supreme Court and continued to operate.

In the early hours of 23 March 2013, people of Thoothukudi complained of suffocation and irritation in the eye. In the same week, the TNPCB stopped the power supply and ordered the factory shut after sulphur-dioxide leaked from it. But the National Green Tribunal allowed it to be reopened.

Vedanta Group said: “Our smelter at Tuticorin has already received all the necessary regulatory clearances for the expansion and our primary commitment therein is to ensure the development and well-being of all the communities around our operations."

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