Explaining why it ordered shutdown of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant, the Tamil Nadu government submitted a plea on July 18 before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the appeal to reopen the plant. Two impediment petitions have also been filed on the same day by MDMK General Secretary Vaiko and K S Arjunam, CPI(M) Tuticorin district secretary, in the case demanding the closure of the plant. Vaiko had earlier alleged that there is “secret pact” between Vedanta group and the state government claiming that the government did not intend to permanently close the plant.
The objections filed by the state government have mostly relied on the earlier directives of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), pointing out violations by the plant such as not maintaining zero liquid discharge, dumping or storing copper slag along the Uppar river, dust emission, sulphur dioxide gas leakage from scrubber, and stated that the authorisation issued to the unit on July 10, 2008 was expired on July 9, 2013 and the unit did not obtain any further authorisation, as per the concerned rules.
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The government also stated that “there is a strong apprehension among the public that the operation of the unit has resulted in health impacts, ground water contamination, eye and throat irritation due to emission discharged from the unit and also from agriculture. The unit has not submitted any authenticated study report on the above aspects to ascertain the veracity of public complaints”. Furthermore, it added that the TNPCB refused renewal of consent in April and asked the unit to “stop all its production and not to resume production operation without obtaining prior renewal of consent from the TNPCB,” which is still pending.
On May 22 and 23, 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured due to police firing upon the protesters who were demanding the closure of the plant. Following which, on May 27, the Tamil Nadu government ordered the shutdown of the plant exercising its powers under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act.
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Vairo, leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Thayagam, has been raising environmental and health concerns of the residents around the Sterlite smelting unit for years now. Vairo, speaking to media, claimed that, if the government had intended to permanently close the plant, he said, “It would have passed a law in this connection as a policy decision.”
Vedanta group, in their plea, had urged the NGT to “direct the state pollution control board to consider the application for renewal of consent afresh and pass appropriate orders granting the same within a period of one month, for a period of five years, from the date of such consent”.
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Meanwhile, villagers from Madathur in Thoothukudi submitted a petition to the District Legal Services Authority on July 16, requesting the state government to ensure the shutdown of the Sterlite plant. In their letter, the villagers stated, “The Thoothukudi police have arrested many protestors and supporters of the protests, and registered false cases on them. There are no men in our village and in the nearby villages. There are rumours that we have been brainwashed to protest against Sterlite. We submit that we protested on our own and were not brainwashed by anybody. People from our village have been petitioned upon with false threats from the police. In all honesty, the anti-Sterlite movement was totally by the people.” It also added that the lawyers Vanchinathan and Hari Raghavan, who were facing allegations of provoking the villagers to protest, have helped them only legally in their protest.