Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi: Tamil Nadu govt orders permanent closure of Vedanta's copper smelting plant

Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami announced on Monday that a government order has been issued to permanently shut down the contentious Sterlite Plant at Thoothukudi (also known as Tuticorin) after 13 people killed, 102 others wounded in protests against the unit.

The Government Order (GO) said that it endorsed the recent closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also asked the TNPCB to "seal the unit and close the plant permanently".

The document cited the Constitution's directive principles of state policy (Article 48-A) enjoining protection of environment and provisions of the Water Act, 1974, to order the permanent closure of the copper factory "in the large public interest".

It referred to the PCB order of 9 April refusing to renew its consent to allow Vedanta's copper smelter plant at Tuticorin to operate.

The order recalled how on 23 May the TNPCB had issue directions for the closure of the unit and disconnection of power supply to it. Palaniswami said the government had issued the GO in deference to the sentiments of the people.

 Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi: Tamil Nadu govt orders permanent closure of Vedantas copper smelting plant

A file photo of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Tuticorin. PTI

The locals were protesting for the closure of the factor for 99 days. Protesters turned violent on 22 May, the 100th day of their stir.

The order for the closure comes after Palaniswami's deputy O Panneerselvam had asserted that the government will take resolute steps for the permanent closure of Vedanta group's copper plant.

"Today, the main demand of the people is that the copper plant should be permanently closed. In keeping with their demand, it is shut now. I would like to make it clear that Sterlite plant will be permanently shut," Panneerselvam said.

The "Amma's government," will do all things necessary to ensure the plant's closure, he told reporters after visiting those injured in the violence and police firing on 22 May, at a state-run hospital in Tuticorin. "The government will do its duty for permanently closing down the plant," he had said.

The deputy chief minister had said even if there were legal challenges in the closure of the plant, it will be faced and the government will take resolute steps to permanently close down the Vedanta group's copper unit.

Describing the deaths of 13 people in the police firing as an "incident of grief which melted the hearts of everyone", Panneerselvam expressed his condolences to the kin of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

Recalling the steps taken by the government for closing down the plant, he said way back in 2013, the copper plant was shut down by late chief minister J Jayalalithaa.

A Infanta, a resident of Fathima Nagar who led the struggle against Sterlite from day one. Image courtesy: Greeshma Rai

A Infanta, a resident of Fathima Nagar who led the struggle against Sterlite from day one. Image courtesy: Greeshma Rai

However, Sterlite approached the National Green Tribunal and got orders for resuming operations and the government petition opposing this was still pending in the Supreme Court.

Large-scale violence on 22 May against the Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin and police firing led to the death of 12 persons and the next day saw one more youth succumbing to injuries sustained in police firing. Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta Ltd which operates a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity plant.

Meanwhile, A Infanta, a resident of Fathima Nagar, who survived the police firing by a whisker and had led the struggle against Sterlite from day one, appeared happy with the government's decision.

The deputy chief minister spoke to reporters and also added that compensation to the injured was being paid.

Normalcy was slowly returning with shops and other establishments opening their doors for customers. Internet connectivity has also resumed since Sunday midnight after it was suspended on 23 May.

"Shops are open now. Normalcy is returning. But till the copper smelter plant is permanently closed there will not be total peace in the city," S Raja of Thoothukudi Traders Association told IANS.

Raja also said murder charge should be registered against the police officials who shot the protestors.

According to Raja, a post-mortem has been done on seven bodies out of the 13 who were killed in the police firing. However, the relatives have not claimed the bodies yet.

With inputs from agencies.

Updated Date: May 28, 2018 18:07:19 IST