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Sterlite Protest From planned ‘peaceful’ protest to deadly violence in TamilNadu

Radical outfits, absence of responsible leadership behind escalation of violence during protest.

sterlite protest fire.jpeg

Elements of radical outfits taking the reins of the anti-Sterlite procession turned it violent that resulted in the loss of 10 innocent lives on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s procession against Sterlite though lesser in number compared to a similar protest on March 24, when around 50,000 gathered, however became violent because of the absence of responsible leadership rendered by retired professor  Fathima Babu and Vinayagamoorthy.

The violence according to a fishermen leader seemed pre-meditated as he suspected that Prof Fathima Babu was removed the previous day from the leadership of the protest, as she was against the protest turning violent at any stage.

Tuesday’s protest unlike the more massive one on March 24 was led by ‘Makkal Adhikaram’ cadres, who was joined by men clad in black T-shirts belonging to Naam Thamilar Katchi and Puratchikara Ilaignar Munnani (Radical Youth Front).

It was members of these radical groups, who first started pelting stones and attacking the police inviting them to retaliate with bullets.

Even after bringing the situation under control, the armed police patrolling along the streets of the pearl city targeted the youths clad in black T-shirts.

Mistaking an 18-year-old boy who accompanied hismother to a private hospital, the armed police entered the privatehospital and beat him severely until the hospital staff came to hisrescue.

The boy fall a victim to the police wrath for the simplereason that he had worn black T-shirt.

Guv condoles deaths, appeals for calm

Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit has expressed grief over the loss of lives in Thoothukudi district during the anti-Sterlite protest on Tuesday and appealed to people to maintain calm.

“My heart is filled with grief on knowing about the loss of lives of 11 persons in Thoothukudi district today. My condolences to each one of the bereaved families. At this critical hour, I appeal to all sections of society to be calm and help in maintaining the peace in the state,” the Governor said in his message.

Company dogged by controversies

1975 Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. was amalgamated

1986 – The company name was changed to Sterlite Industries (India), Ltd.

In 1993  District Collector of Ratnagiri, Maharashtra directed Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd to suspend construction work following year-long agitation by local people.

1994, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) issued a No Objection Certificate asking the company to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Considering the ecological sensitivity of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere reserve, the NOC carried a condition stipulating that the factory should be located 25 km from the Gulf of Mannar.

In 1995, TNPCB issued consent to establish order authorising Sterlite to commence construction.

The company violated the setback condition, and the plant was built within 14 km of the Gulf of Mannar. Police came down heavily on agitating local residents.

1996, TNPCB issued the plant a licence to operate, ignoring the violation of its own licence condition on setback from the Gulf of Mannar.

Within months of commissioning the plant, local residents lodged complaint against the firm stating foul smoke emanated from the plant and posing health hazard.

1997:  Controversy dogged Rs.1,000-crore copper smelting plant. However, it received a clean chit from the three member independent committee set up by the Tamil Nadu government to look into the environmental fallout of the project.

1998 National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found the industry violated various safety norms. The institute identified ground water contaminated with arsenic, lead, selenium, arsenic, aluminum and copper. Ambient air quality was also severely affected.

On November 23, 1998, Madras high court closed the factory. After having indicted, the NEERI gave clean chit to the plant, with recommendations that the factory must be run at full capacity to conduct a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment.

On March 2, 1999 local residents hospitalised due to gas leak from the plant.
TNPCB permitted Sterlite to nearly double its production from 40,000 tonnes per annum to 70,000 tonnes per annum.

On January 2, 2001, residents complained of toxic wastewater from Sterlite’s arsenic laced wastewater reportedly flooded the Silverpuram, Meelavittan and Kaluthaikuttan tanks.

2004 – When the TNPCB limited production to 70,000 tonnes per annum, Sterlite manufactured 1,75,242 tonnes of copper anode.

TNPCB permitted Sterlite to nearly double its production from 40,000 tonnes per annum to 70,000 tonnes per annum.

2005 – Expansion of smelter to 300,000 tonnes per annum. The company received permission to operate copper smelter plant.

2006 – Expansion of smelter to 400 kilo tonnes per annum

2012 – 80 MW captive power project, Synchronised.

On September 21, 2004, a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) team inspected Sterlite and recommended that environmental clearance for the company’s proposed expansion from 391 to 900 tonnes per day (300,000 tonnes per annum) not be given.

On September 22, 2004, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an environmental clearance to Sterlite for plants it had already begun to construct.

On November 16, 2004, TNPCB confirmed that the company was engaged in unlicenced production.

In 2008, the company further expanded its production.

On September 28, 2010, Madras High court ordered closure of Sterlite citing violations of law and for polluting the environment.

On October 1 the Supreme Court stayed the closure order of the Madras High Court.

During 2010 and 2013 three workers were killed and several injured in eight hazardous incidents.

On March 23, 2013, Thoothukudi town experienced a massive gas leak.

On March 29, 2013, again a closure order was given citing violation of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. Subsequently, the order was lifted.

On April 2, 2013, the Supreme Court refused to shut down the unit. However, It ordered the company to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore for violating various norms.

For the past 100 days the local residents staging protest demanding shut of the unit. Various political leaders and social activists also staged agitation across the state. Help also poured in from Tamils across the globe.

Meanwhile Company Released Press Statement as follows :

“It is with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed today’s incidents around the protest at Tuticorin. The company has appealed to the government and authorities to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community. The Sterlite Copper plant is currently non-operational as we await approval for the Consent to Operate”, the company said.

On other side – DMK didn’t take action to close Sterlite, says Fisheries minister.

“The state is clear (on the issue) and does not want Sterlite to continue its operation,” Mr Jayakumar told reporters.

D Jayakumar

Fisheries minister D. Jayakumar who described the police firing incident during anti-Sterlite protest on Tuesday morning as “distressing,” blamed the then DMK government for not taking any action to close down the Sterlite plant.

Indicating that it was because of the DMK that the situation had precipitated, he claimed that the former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa wanted to close down Sterlite plant but it was because of the National Green Tribunal judgment the Sterlite was allowed to function. The state went on an appeal and the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. “The state is clear (on the issue) and does not want Sterlite to continue its operation,” Mr Jayakumar told reporters here on Tuesday.

Justifying the police action of firing at the protesters, the minister asserted that the police was forced to open fire because the situation went out of control and the protesters turned “extremely violent.” “Violence inside the collectorate is unacceptable and firing was unavoidable,” he said and added that violence can never be a solution for any problem.

While assuring on behalf of the government to take steps to prevent the plant’s operation, he said the government appreciated the sentiments of the protesters on the issue. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami was “concerned” over today’s developments and had discussed the matter with the officials. Reinforcements were rushed from neighbouring districts to assist the local administration in restoring normalcy.