New Delhi: The Thoothukudi district administration has spent less than Rs 7 crore out of the Rs 100 crore deposited by Sterlite as penalty imposed by the Supreme Court in April 2013, revealed an RTI enquiry.
The interest from the deposit has swelled to Rs 141 crore. However, the district administration has sanctioned 33 projects, out of which only 14 have been completed.
Last week about 20,000 people took out a procession towards the district collectorate and the copper plant with the intention of picketing them, demanding for its permanent closure, and resorted to violence, which resulted in the death of 13 people.
Protesters alleged that the plant is polluting ground water in the area.
Following a gas leak in March 2013 in the plant, the then chief minister, the late J Jayalalithaa ordered its closure, following which the company moved the National Green Tribunal against the state government.
On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government 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".
While slapping the fine on Sterlite, the Supreme Court had directed that the compensation of Rs 100 crore, levied for polluting the environment and operating the plant without consent, should be deposited by the Thoothukudi Collector in a fixed deposit.
The court also ordered, “The interest should be spent for improving the environment, including water and soil, of the vicinity of the plant after consultation with TNPCB and approval of the Secretary, Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu".
However, a look at the projects revealed that none of it has been adhered to, instead, the funds were channelled towards implementation of rainwater harvesting structures, construction of wards at government-run hospitals in the region, check dams, protective walls, ground water recharging units, ultrasound scan machines and even sanctioned the construction of parks, one of it at the Collectorate campus.
There was an attempt towards planting 2,000 trees in 30 villages around the copper smelter but beyond that, most of the spending had little to do with improvement of the environment – a gross violation of the apex court’s orders, revealed RTI.
The RTI further revealed that projects undertaken have been projected as part of Sterlite Copper’s CSR. “For instance, a sum of Rs 30 lakh was sanctioned and Rs 27 lakh spent on “construction and formation of park at Collectorate Campus, Thoothukudi. Until protesters defaced it in March 2018, the park sported several signboards advertising Sterlite Copper," revealed RTI
Sterlite Copper represents the copper unit of Vedanta Limited which operates a 400,000 tonnes per annum-plant in Thoothukudi.