Amidst violent protests in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu that has left 13 dead, a media report has claimed that an expert panel of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had recommended to constitute a sub-committee two months ago and tasked it to assess the environment clearance granted to the Sterlite Copper in 2009 to operate its plant in the coastal town. The sub-committee is yet to be constituted, The Indian Express said in a report today. Citing sources, it said that a planned visit to the Sterlite Copper’s unit has also been delayed in view of the protest that has been going for the past three months.
The IE report said that the Ministry had recommended the setting up of a sub-committee after it received several complaints of pollution from locals. The sub-committee was to be made up of members of the expert panel which had noted that the Sterlite Copper — the copper unit of the Vedanta Limited, was unable to implement the facilities proposed in the environment clearance dated January 1, 2009.
“The sub-committee was to be made up of members of the main committee but so far, it has not been constituted… nor made a visit to the site,” the report quoted an expert appraisal committee (EAC) member as saying. The official told the daily that the main panel had during its two-day meeting in March decided that the sub-committee will visit the company’s site but “then there was news of agitations”.
The EAC, the official said, had tasked the sub-committee to assess the current status of implementation of environment clearance and thereafter to consider the proposal for ToRs (terms of reference). Besides, it was also asked to hold talks with the locals and the officials of the company.
The EAC had noted that Sterlite Copper “is unable to implement facilities proposed in the earlier granted environment with the valid time. Therefore, the project proponent (Sterlite Copper) made an application for fresh ToR.” The IE report said that the EAC had also received a number of representations expressing concerns about environmental issues related to the project.
The member of the panel told the daily that Sterlite Copper had even insisted on expanding its plant without public consultation.
Meanwhile, the situation in Thoothukudi district has been calm and under control with administration deploying adequate number of security forces. SP Murali Rambha told ANI that they are working to restore normalcy in the region and ensure the markets and hotels start functioning like earlier. “The town is calm now and the situation is under control. Sufficient number of police has been deployed to maintain the law and order.”
On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed anguish over the killing of 13 people in police firing and made an appeal to the locals to maintain peace. The Home Minister said that he has sought a report from the state government on the incident and assured all central support to restore normalcy in the district. So far, 13 people have been killed in clashes between locals and police. The protest took a violent turn on Tuesday when around 20,000 agitating people violated the Section 144 and march towards the district collector’s office. People have been demanding the closure of the plant alleging pollution emanating from the plant is polluting the farm-land, drinking water and causing health issues.