13 Deaths Later, Tamil Nadu Govt Orders Permanent Closure of Sterlite Plant in Tuticorin
The announcement is being seen as a damage control move by the AIADMK government as it had come under fire over the police action on protesters that resulted in 13 deaths.
Smoke billows from burning barricades as agitators march to demand the closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Tuticorin on May 22. (PTI)
Chennai: Tamil Nadu chief minister EK Palaniswami announced on Monday that a government order has been issued, directing the state pollution control board to seal Vedanta group's copper plant in Thoothukudi, or Tuticorin, and close it down "permanently" following last week's violent protests during which 13 people were killed in police firing.
The Government Order (GO) said it endorsed the recent closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, and also asked the TNPCB to "seal the unit and close the plant permanently".
The document cited the Constitution's directive principles of state policy (Article 48-A) enjoining protection of environment and provisions of the Water Act, 1974, to order the permanent closure of the copper factory "in the larger public interest".
The chief minister said the government has issued the order in deference to the sentiments of the people. "This government follows the footsteps of Amma (late chief minister Jayalalithaa). This government is for the people," he said.
The locals were protesting for the closure of the factory for 99 days. Protesters turned violent on May 22, the 100th day of their stir, and 13 people were killed in police action against them last Tuesday and Wednesday.
The move is being seen as a damage control move as the AIADMK government had come under fire from opposition parties, activists and human rights bodies over the police action.
The Vedanta Group issued a statement, calling the closure order unfortunate. The company said it will study the order and decide on the future course of action. “Closure of Sterlite Copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since, we have operated the plant for over 22 years in most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to the Tuticorin and State’s socio-economic development,” the statement read.
The plant has already been shut since the last week of March after the state pollution control board refused to renew its consent to operate in the face of protests.
The decision to shut the plant permanently has been taken just a before the Tamil Nadu Assembly session starts. The opposition had lambasted the government for its failure to control the protests and dubbed the police action as “murder and state-sponsored terrorism”.
While opposition leaders like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth welcomed the closure order, DMK’s working president MK Stalin called it an “eyewash” and “drama”.
“Had this Government Order ben passed before the death of 13 people, we would have welcomed it. But now, it looks like it has a hidden agenda. This move by the state Government is mere eyewash. If victims of Tuticorin don’t get justice, we will approach the court,” he said.
Haasan, on the other hand, took to Twitter to say that the order is a victory of the might of the people. “All political parties should humble themselves before this victory of the people; salute the martyrs and learn from them. The Government should have been sensitive to the protests of local people for over 100 days and acted swiftly, which would have avoided the needless and unfortunate loss of lives last week,” he said.
“Any legal challenge to this order by the Company should be defended appropriately by the state government to ensure that the present order is permanently implemented,” he added.
Rajinikanth posted an audio message on Twitter. He said: “The victory should be dedicated to the people who lost their lives during the protests. I pray to the almighty that protests of this nature should not happen again in Tamil Nadu.”
However, it remains to be seen how effective the government order is as the company is likely to challenge it. Deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam, who had earlier in the day hinted that the government would pass the order, said that Jayalalithaa had also ordered that the plant be shut in 2013, but the National Green Tribunal had reversed the order and allowed the company to resume operations.
The case is still pending before the Supreme Court. Panneerselvam said that even if their order gets challenged legally, it will be faced strongly and the government will take resolute steps to permanently close down the copper unit.
Describing the deaths of 13 people in the police firing as an "incident of grief which melted the hearts of everyone," Panneerselvam expressed his condolences to the kin of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
Panneerselvam said he met 47 injured persons and consoled them, and received representations from them which will be fulfilled. He said compensation has already been provided to all the injured he met. The visit of the Deputy Chief Minister, who is also the top leader of the ruling AIADMK, comes at a time when the city has just got back on its feet.
Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta Ltd which operated a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity plant here. With the return of normalcy, prohibitory orders were relaxed and the internet services have also been restored fully.
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