As Tuticorin remembers the tragic one year anniversary of the Sterlite firing, reportedly 2500 police officers had been deployed in the port city as various rallies and meetings mark the day.
Security personnel remained on high alert and no untoward incidents were reported either. The deceased were remembered by their kith and kin across the city.
Exactly one year ago on May 22, 2018, plain-clothed police fired on protesters who were demanding the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit. The event left thirteen people dead and many more injured in its wake. The protesters alleged that the copper facility contaminated the air, water and land of the vicinity and wanted the facility to be shut down.
The incident sparked widespread outrage and comments from the Tamil Nadu Government and popular politicians.
Action Taken Following The Protests
The State government later announced a “permanent” closure of the copper smelter plant in Tuticorin and awarded the families of the deceased victims a sum of Rs 20 Lakh each. Although no amount of money can bring back the life of a loved one, all families confirmed to have received the compensation amount.
Rs 5 Lakh each for the severely injured and Rs 1.5 Lakh each for other injured persons was also announced by the state government. Additionally, the government also promised to provide a government employment opportunity to one member from the deceased victim’s family.
Courts At Odds
In March 2018, the plant shut down for a routine two-month maintenance check, however following the protests, the Tamil Nadu government ordered for permanent shutdown of the copper smelter plant in May 2018.
Later last year, on 15th December, the NGT ordered for the reopening of Vedanta’s copper smelter plant. Excerpts from the order read,
“We allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorization to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today. The appellant will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations,”
In February 2019, the Apex court of the country refused to allow the reopening of Vedanta’s Sterlite plant but granted the company liberty to approach the high court. A bench headed by Justice RF Nariman allowed Tamil Nadu’s appeal against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order only on grounds of maintainability and said the tribunal has no jurisdiction to order reopening of the plant.
The Supreme court was hearing a plea by Vedanta group seeking a direction to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to implement the NGT order which had set aside the state government’s decision to close the plant.
And on April 12th, the Apex court heard Vedanta group’s petition to gain access to its closed smelter plant in Tuticorin to carry out maintenance activities but was dismissed.
The Hindu Business Line reported that Sterlite , in its plea to the apex court, said that its “intention was solely to preserve its assets” and for such purpose alone, commence repair and maintenance activities. It added that lack of maintenance of assets there has resulted in a loss of over ₹100 crores to the company.