Demands to shut down Sterlite Copper in Tuticorin (Tamil Nadu) started as early as 1996
Sterlite is a copper-smelting company and a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Vedanta Resources. After being rejected by Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra on environmental grounds, the Jayalalitha Government allowed it to set up a factory in Tamil Nadu in 1994. Since its inception, massive pollution from the factory has caused environmental damage and severe health problems for the people in the area.
Despite a toxic gas leak in 2013, the plant was still not shut down
In 2011, the Madras High Court found high levels of copper, lead, and fluoride in the groundwater. Fumes from the factory had resulted in miscarriages, respiratory issues, skin problems for people within a 5km radius of the factory. Later in 2013, the Madras High Court even found a dangerous toxic gas leak from the plant and ordered it to shut down. Unfortunately, a mere 3 months later, the Supreme Court allowed the plant to reopen after a Rs. 100 crore fine.
In February 2018, Sterlite’s plant expansion plans triggered fresh protests
If allowed to expand and double its production as planned, Sterlite Copper would be world’s largest single-location copper smelter in an urban area. Responding to this, the Anti-Sterlite Movement began with 250 people going on strike with more and more people joining in support.
On Day 100 of the protests, police opened fire at the crowd killing 13
By May, the protest grew to thousands of people on the streets of Tuticorin. On 22nd May, in an attempt to quell the crowds, police used tear-gas and opened fire on the protestors killing 13 people, including a 17-year law student. 67 protestors were arrested by the police. Victims of the riot were sent to the Tuticorin Government Medical College Hospital but there too unidentified protestors allegedly blasted a bomb.
The Tamil Nadu Government imposed a 5-day curfew in the area
In light of this chaos and deaths, celebrities like Kamal Hassan and Rajnikant came out in support of the unarmed protestors. The incident was being compared to those in Kashmir where riots lead to stone-pelting, tear bombs, curfew and internet banned.
The Supreme Court finally stayed the illegal construction
On 23rd May itself, The Madras High Court on Wednesday, 23rd May, directed Vedanta (Sterlite’s parent company) to cease construction of the copper plant in Thoothukudi in south Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court will now conduct procedures regarding the approval of the new plant and give a final verdict of 23rd September. Until then, Vedanta has ceased construction, leading to probable losses in its revenue and a 6% drop in its share value. Public defenders have pledged to make sure the approval doesn’t go through and other units of the plant are ordered to shut down.