The months-long protest demanding the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit entered its 100th day today with agitators pelting stones and toppling police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant.
The agitation against Sterlite Copper, which represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited, escalated in February this year after the company announced the expansion of its unit in the coastal city of Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu.
In March, the residents in and around the plant conducted peaceful demonstrations at the Chidambaram Nagar bus stand in the district demanding the closure of the factory. The protestors included activists and villagers from Kumarattiyapuram village who have been opposing the plant for over two decades as the water in the area has been contaminated due to the plant’s operations. They claim they are facing severe health problems due to the unit.
Sterlite Copper unit was shut down on March 29 this year for 15 days for “maintenance work.” The firm has since then placed advertisements in dailies claiming that it has not violated any norms against the background of continuing protests.
Some activists have said that the plant is posing a grave danger to the residents of the area as reports have suggested that throat and eye cancer cases have gone up in the area. Environmental activists have also expressed concern since copper smelting leads to various kinds of pollution and they must be located far away from the residential areas. Apart from this, activists contend, a plant like Sterlite will require lot of surface water and resources, which may gradually lead to depletion of drinking water in the area and also shortage for agricultural supply.
On April 4, the Madras High Court had directed the police to provide security for the plant in the wake of the agitation. The plant, which can produce 400,000 tonnes of copper a year, will remain shut until at least June 6 as Tamil Nadu pollution control board will not allow it to operate due to alleged non-compliance with environmental rules.
Various political parties such as DMK and actor Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Neethi Mayyam have also taken part in anti-Sterlite protests.
In 2013, the Sterlite copper plant was fined by the Supreme Court on account of a gas leak which caused pollution in the area. The apex court had also slammed the plant for operating without requisite permits for a considerable period of time.