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The basic facts
Sterlite Industries is a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources
Founder: Anil Agarwal
Number of employees in May 2018: 1,500
A chequered history
1995- May 2018
CSE said the plant couldn't find favour with the three states due to its ‘potential of creating environmental hazards.
Sterlite also alleged gave a faulty environmental impact assessment report while taking environment clearance.
At the centre of controversy since it was first proposed in 1995, the four-lakh-tonne-capacity copper smelting plant of Sterlite at Tuticorin was rejected by three states, Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra, before it was finally allowed to set up in Tamil Nadu.
Sharing details around the controversy, Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Wednesday claimed the plant due to its ‘potential of creating environmental hazards’ could not find favour with the three states and it had allegedly “flouted norms by misrepresenting facts” to get final nod for its operation in Tamil Nadu.
CSE alleged the company gave a faulty environmental impact assessment (EIA) report while taking environment clearance (EC).
Listing the norms allegedly flouted by the company in course of getting clearances, the CSE said, “Firstly, it said the plant is not located within 25 kilometres of ecologically sensitive area, which was found to be wrong as the plant is located near Munnar Marine National Park. In addition, the company submitted a faulty rapid EIA report without conducting any public hearing.”
Asked to comment on CSE’s claims, a spokesperson representing Vedanta said, “Vedanta is committed to sustainable operations across all its assets globally. The company adheres to stringent globally benchmarked standards in terms of Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) parameters. Over the years, the company has unfailingly abided by every rule and regulation laid out by the various authorities, including the MoEF.” Sterlite is part of Vedanta, a global conglomerate.
At least 13 people were killed in police firing in Tuticorin after protests for the closure of the plant over pollution concerns turned violent since Tuesday. The residents of the area were protesting proposed doubling of the copper plant capacity.
“It is with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed the tragic incidents around the protest at Tuticorin. The company is working ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community. The Sterlite copper plant is currently non-operational and we will maintain open dialogue with our stakeholders as we await the Consent to Operate”, a Vedanta spokesperson said.
According to CSE, the Madras high court had closed the plant in 2010 because it had flouted environmental norms while setting up the plant. In 2013, the Supreme Court imposed a penalty of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment.
In March 2013, a toxic gas leak from the plant made several hundred residents living in its vicinity sick. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had ordered a closure of the smelting unit on March 29, but the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal gave a clean chit to Sterlite and revoked the closure order based on technicalities.
“Considering the history of this plant, the residents were justified in protesting the expansion. This plant has polluted the environment and flouted standards with impunity for the past 20 years”, said Sunita Narain, director general of the CSE, while condemning the killing of protesters.
2018, May: TN shuts down Sterlite unit
Order Issued A Day Ahead Of Assembly Session
Bowing to popular sentiment and growing political pressure, the Tamil Nadu government on Monday ordered closure of Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin and “sealed” the premises “permanently”.
The closure order came within hours of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, fisheries minister D Jayakumar and information and publicity minister Kadambur C Raju visiting injured protesters at the Tuticorin government hospital.
Coming a day ahead of the Tamil Nadu assembly session, the closure is likely to take the sheen off the opposition’s plans to corner the government and press for CM Edappadi K Palaniswami’s resignation over the Sterlite protests and police firing on May 22 and 23 that left 13 dead.
Palaniswami said the state government had issued the order for the closure of the unit, respecting the sentiments of the people.
“Representatives of several organisations met me today in the presence of the deputy CM and other ministers and requested for closure. The government met the demand by issuing an order today,” he said.
‘Sterlite failed to adhere to NGT conditions’
Tamil Nadu CM Palaniswami reiterated charges that the Sterlite management failed to adhere to the conditions laid down by the National Green Tribunal, and therefore, the state pollution control board rejected their request for renewal of consent to operate on April 9, 2018.
“There is a case pending in the court, but there is no stay (on government acting against the unit). The state will implement what is good for the people,” he said.
Even though Sterlite unit had been issued “closure notice” on a couple of occasions earlier, this was the first time the state government has sealed the factory. A team of officials led by Tuticorin district collector Sandeep Nanduri sealed the premises on Monday evening.
“Closure of Sterlite Copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since we have operated the plant for over 22 years in most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to Tuticorin and state’s socio-economic development. We will study the order and decide on the future course of action,” Vedanta Limited, which owns the smelter, said in a statement.
Opposition parties, including DMK, Congress and MDMK, termed the closure a “belated action”, after 13 people lost their lives in the firing. DMDK welcomed the move.