Expressing his concerns over the fatal police firing on the protestors agitating against the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin, United Nations Environment Programme chief Erik Solheim on Saturday stressed that “public consultation is absolutely central to any big infrastructure project.”
“Let me say my prayers and condolences to the families of all those (who were killed in police firing). This shall not happen. Protests shall be without violence. This is very sad and we are very worried with this and we hope that solutions can be found,” Solheim told reporters in Kochi.
At least 13 people died and many were injured after violence erupted in Tuticorin on May 22 and 23 as locals took to streets, demanding closure of the Vedanta group’s copper factory over pollution concerns.
He also pointed out that the locals there had ‘strong sentiments’ about this plant which should be taken into consideration by the government.
Stressing on the importance of cleaning of rivers in the country, Solheim emphasised that an area of improvement in which India needs to push harder when it comes to environment protection is the cleaning up of big rivers.
“A big issue on which Prime Minister Modi has set out is the cleaning up of big rivers of India particularly the Ganges and many, many others. We were told about many rivers in Kerala. That’s a big issue because there is open defecation (along with) pollution from factories that goes straight into the river. I have seen it happen in the Ganges but I know it happens in several other rivers,” Solheim told indianexpress.com on the sidelines of his visit to the Cochin International Airport (CIAL), the world’s first airport to be completely fuelled by solar energy.
Calling it a ‘big sanitary health issue’ for the people of the country, Solheim said examples are available from Germany where the Rhine was sanitised and from Szechuan province in China. “It’s a big, big issue in India which the Prime Minister is determined to push ahead and we wish all the luck in that,” he added.
Solheim, a former politician from Norway who assumed office as the head of UNEP in 2016, is in India to meet PM Modi and a host of regional leaders including chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, N. Chandrababu Naidu and Pinarayi Vijayan. He praised the efforts of CIAL in establishing a massive solar power plant covering 45 acres near the cargo complex of the airport. The plant, which has more than 45000 solar panels, was inaugurated by former chief minister Oommen Chandy in 2015.
“If we can find a way of formally recognising it, we would be happy to do it,” said Solheim on whether the UNEP can officially declare the airport to be fully powered by the sun.