Thoothukudi Sterlite Protests: Tarun Agarwal Committee Report Flawed?
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On December 7, Tamil Nadu government and Mining giant Vedanta Sterlite Copper Smelting Plant have submitted final submissions to the National Green Tribunal regarding the closure of Sterlite. While the Sterlite has offered to invest Rs 100 crore for “social work” in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has stated that Sterlite is a blatant polluter, and has appealed to the tribunal to reject the findings of report submitted by the NGT committee which probed the matter.
Meanwhile, since December 6, residents of Pandaarampatti village are on dharna (protest), demanding the government to pass a resolution in the assembly favouring permanent closure of the Sterlite.
Recently, an NGT committee, headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal, had recommended several measures for the factory to be reopened. Despite numerous violations by the Sterlite, the committee favoured the reopening of the plant, which attracted opposition from Thoothukudi residents, environmentalists and independent observers.
However, the report mentioned several violations by the Sterlite – the factory did not submit mandatory independent monthly reports to the TNPCB, it did not even remove copper slag from the banks of the Uppar river, obstructing the river flow.
The NGT committee report lacks credibility, opined retired IAS officer M G Devasahayam. Speaking to Newsclick, Devasahayam said: “Why did NGT first consider Madras High Court Justice K.P.Sivasubramanian and Justice K.Chandru, who are well-known for transparency, to head the committee and choose Justice Tarun Agarwal? Also, the enquiry conducted was not properly done.” He added that the manner in which probe was done was not a credible exercise.
While the committee was allotted a period of six months to conduct enquiry, it submitted its report in just two months. Scientists Satish C Garkoti and H D Varalaxmi are members of the committee.
Earlier this year, Thoothukudi residents had led a 100-day-long protest demanding the closure of the Sterlite, accusing it of causing severe pollution. On May 22, at least 13 protestors were killed in police firing. Following this, the state government had, on May 28, ordered the TNPCB to seal and "permanently" close the Sterlite over pollution concerns.
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