Six days after 13 people were killed in police firing on hundreds who marched to the Tuticorin collectorate demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant over pollution fears, the Tamil Nadu government on Monday ordered the state pollution control board to close the Vedanta group plant permanently. The order, citing a provision of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, stated that the government, endorsing the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), directed the pollution control board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said the government had issued the GO in deference to the sentiments of the people. (PTI adds: Soon after the issuance of the GO, Tuticorin district officials sealed the copper smelter unit premises and pasted the order at the main gate. “Now the plant is permanently closed. The GO has been implemented,” Tuticorin District Collector Sandeep Nanduri said.) The government’s decision came a day ahead of the start of the state assembly session where it the Opposition is set to rake up the Tuticorin incident.
The Sterlite Copper plant had been shut since March 27 — the company had consent to operate the plant until March 31 this year. Also Monday, the Supreme Court declined to give an urgent hearing to a petition seeking direction to the Tamil Nadu government to file a status report on its efforts to control pollution, allegedly from the Sterlite Copper plant. The bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar said the petition will come up in due course in July after the summer vacation.
On May 23, a day after the police firing, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the smelter plant. The bench of Justices M Sundar and Anita Sumanth, in an interim order, observed that “the economic benefits of encouraging industries cannot be ignored” but “the toll extracted on available resources, water and soil regimes by such industries cannot also be lost sight of” and noted that there is “another stakeholder… one that is invisible in the array of parties, the environment… (the) hapless party”.
The bench passed the order on a petition filed by Fathima Babu, a retired professor and resident of Tuticorin. The judges said “the application for renewal of EC (environmental clearance) submitted by Vedanta shall be processed expeditiously after conduct of mandatory public hearing. In any event, the application shall be decided by the appropriate authorities within a period of four months from today i.e. on or before 23.09.2018.”
“In the meanwhile, Vedanta shall cease construction and all other activities on-site proposed Unit-II of the Copper Smelting Plant at Tuticorin with immediate effect. The resumption/continuance thereof, if it be so, shall be subject to the decision taken upon above,” the bench said. Ahead of the government order Monday, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who visited Tuticorin, said: “We have already closed the factory, we will soon take steps to permanently shut down the unit even if there are legal hurdles.”
Meanwhile, a source in Raj Bhavan said Governor Banwarilal Purohit may visit Tuticorin on Tuesday. The Governor, the source said, plans to visit the injured as well as those who led the protests. On Monday, AIADMK sacked a senior functionary of its IT wing, C Hari Prabhakaran, for his derogatory remarks about journalists via his official Twitter handle. Party’s IT wing secretary Singai G Ramachandran, in a statement, warned members to strictly adhere to party decorum.