Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi: In 2015, villagers in Zambia took Vedanta to court over toxic leaks from copper plant

A day after at least 11 people were killed when police fired at protesters calling for the closure of a copper smelter run by Vedanta Resources, the Madras High Court stayed the expansion of Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi on Wednesday.

The protests demanding the closure the copper unit in took a violent turn on Tuesday with agitators pelting stones and toppling police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant.

The plant, which can produce 400,000 tonnes of copper a year, has been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed at least until 6 June, according to Reuters, because the local pollution regulator has said it is not complying with environmental rules.

 Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi: In 2015, villagers in Zambia took Vedanta to court over toxic leaks from copper plant

Representational image. Reuters

Vedanta has run into trouble for its projects in several states across India, with the most prominent being those in Odisha, Rajasthan and Punjab. But even outside the country, Vedanta has reportedly fallen afoul of the law.

A confidential internal report commissioned from Canadian pollution control experts showed that a Vedanta Resources’ mine in Zambia’s Copperbelt region had been spilling toxic chemicals into rivers, streams and underground aquifers used for drinking water near the town of Chingola in 2015, The Guardian reported.

The contamination resulted in stomach pains and illnesses, devastated crops, loss of earnings and permanent injuries, locals said. "The water is acidic and the copper and iron levels exceed permitted levels,” The report quoted a medical expert as writing in the report. "The impurities… can cause cancer in the bloodstream and unhealthy conditions in internal organs. The people in that village should be advised to stop using the same water."

A Vedanta spokesman insisted the company takes the health of its neighbours seriously, saying, "All Vedanta’s operating subsidiaries take the health of their employees, the well-being of surrounding communities and the environment very seriously. Our subsidiaries are committed to ensuring they operate in a safe and sustainable way."

In 2016, another report said that Vendanta was to argue in the London High Court that the Zambians should not be allowed to bring the case alleging pollution of their water from the copper mine to British courts, even after 1,826 villagers said they had suffered continual pollution since 2004.

The report pointed out that the four Zambian villages are close to the city of Chingola and next to the giant Nchanga Copper Mine, which is operated by KCM. Vedanta bought a controlling share in KCM in 2004.

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Updated Date: May 23, 2018 15:24:43 IST