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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Tamil Nadu govt allows Sterlite plant to reopen for 4 months to produce oxygen

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, however, said that Vedanta will not be allowed to produce copper during this period.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: April 26, 2021 7:30:22 pm
A worker fills an oxygen cylinder at a production plant in Ahmedabad on Monday. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

Following an all-party meet chaired by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at the secretariat in Chennai on Monday, the state government decided to reopen the Sterlite copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi for a period of four months to produce medical oxygen.

The representatives of AIADMK, DMK, BJP, PMK, DMDK, Communist parties, Director General of Police, Health Secretary, and other senior officials were part of the meeting. Since only recognised parties were invited, other prominent parties like MP Thol Tirumavalvan’s Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK), actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) were left out.

Chief Minister Edappadi informed that it had been decided unanimously that all the parties have agreed to reopen the plant for manufacturing oxygen.

He added that the following resolutions were passed during the meeting: “The copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi would be allowed to reopen for a period of four months only to manufacture oxygen. Under no circumstance will Vedanta be allowed to open or operate other plants that would be used for copper production. Based on the requirement of oxygen, the period might be extended. The electricity supply to the oxygen plants would be cut by the government after the specified period.”

The copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi was shut down in 2018 by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over environmental violations. (File Photo)

The oxygen will be sent to other states only after Tamil Nadu’s requirements are met. Technicians of the copper smelter unit alone would be permitted to enter the area with proper admission cards. The government would provide adequate security to the unit. A committee under the leadership of the district collector would be set up to monitor the manufacturing activities. District SP, officials from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, district environmental officer, local representatives, environmental activists, three people from anti-sterlite organisation would be part of the committee.

On behalf of DMK, Thoothukudi MP and the party’s women’s wing leader Kanimozhi and DMK’s organising secretary RS Bharathi took part in the meeting. Speaking to reporters, Kanimozhi said a resolution has been passed in the meeting to reopen the copper plant temporarily for producing oxygen alone and there should be no electricity supply for the rest of the plant. She added that power to the plant should be supplied only by the state government.

The Supreme Court on April 22 had termed the Covid-19 situation as a ‘’national emergency” while agreeing to hear Vedanta’s plea to reopen the unit. Vedanta said it would produce 1,000 tonnes of oxygen and supply it for free to treat patients.  The apex court said people are dying due to lack of oxygen and asked the state government why it cannot take over the Sterlite copper unit for producing oxygen. “We are not interested that Vedanta or A, B or C runs it. We are interested that oxygen should be produced,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde had said.

On April 23, the state government said that the reopening of the plant could potentially lead to a law-and-order issue. In response, the top court said some states are in dire need of oxygen and the resources should be distributed equally. Senior Advocate CS Vaidhyanathan, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, had said that he will consult with the government and respond on the reopening of the plant.

Under these circumstances, tension prevailed at the Thoothukudi collector’s office on Friday during a public hearing on the re-opening of the plant. There were heated exchanges between the pro and anti-Sterlite supporters and police personnel were brought in to bring the situation under control.

Outside the office, locals staged a protest saying they don’t want the oxygen.

The copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi was shut down in 2018 by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over environmental violations. On May 22, 2018, at least 13 people were killed and several others were injured when the state police fired at people who had taken out a demonstration against the construction of a new smelter plant by Vedanta.

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