The 100-day-old protest against the Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper’s plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district took an ugly turn on Tuesday with agitators clashing with the police, triggering violent incidents in which at least nine persons were killed, besides scores of people being reported injured.
Local residents who have been demanding closure of the smelter for the past 100 days took out a march to the Tuticorin district collectorate on Tuesday. The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the plant and its proposed expansion.
After the sporadic incident, tension prevailed in the area. The police tried to disperse the mob as the protesters got involved in torching police vehicles and started pelting stones against them. The entire stretch was brought under Section 144 to prevent any such protests. However, the protesters went out of control, which led to the violent incident, the state government said in a statement here. The state government has ordered a compensation of `9 lakh for the deceased and Rs 3 lakh for those injured.
The Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK government in a statement assured that it will take action against those involved in the firing, including policemen. The policemen were involved in preventing 20,000 protesters who marched towards collectorate and plant site, demanding imminent closure of the plant due to its non-compliance of environment laws.
In a statement, the chief minister said that the incident took place under “unavoidable circumstances” and a thorough probe would be ordered.
In its statement, the state government recalled the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB)rejected Sterlite’s application in March this year, seeking renewal of consent to operate (CTO) the plant for non-fulfilment of green norms. During the closure, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board rejected Vedanta’s licence to operate the smelter in April, saying the company had not complied with local environmental laws. Sterlite has challenged the step. The appellate authority of the pollution board has adjourned the next hearing to June 6. The state pollution control board has accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag in a river and not furnishing reports of groundwater analysis of borewells near the plant. The state government also claimed that the company failed to submit a report on the pollution level in the air for sometime.
The problem came into limelight when the company sought the state government’s permission to expand/double the capacity to 800,000 tonne per annum with an estimated investment of Rs 3,000 crore. But the state government declined to give permission due to non-compliance of environmental issues as well strong protests from local public, included issues relating to disposal of copper waste and effluents.
The copper plant has been in operation for over 20 years.