In a massive movement similar to the 2017 ‘Jallikattu Protest’, thousands of people in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi are unanimously protesting on the streets, demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant for allegedly causing long-term pollution to residents.
Several shops had remained shut on Sunday in response to a strike called by members of over 50 associations, with locals across various age groups demanding the closure of the Sterlite Plant, a part of the Vedanta group, as the unit was allegedly polluting the groundwater in the area.
Locals and environmental activists unhappy with the proposed expansion of the Sterlite copper plant, voiced concern that it would further affect the environment. They not only wanted the expansion to be stopped, but the plant itself to be closed.
Local residents argue that the existing smelter has been polluting their water and air since it was established in 1996. This has allegedly caused respiratory and skin problems, fainting and other illness, especially among children.
The people of the village had petitioned the district collector several times seeking closure of the unit, but no action had been taken, reported PTI.
Activist Nityanand Jayaraman, in a Facebook post, has also alleged that the Sterlite plant is not taking care of the health and safety of its workers.
His post said, “Worker, Kartheepan, lost his hand in an accident in Vedanta Sterlite’s controversial copper factory in Thoothukudi. Kartheepan’s injury has maimed him for life. His left hand had to be amputated at the wrist. His hand was sucked into the conveyor with such force that two ribs were broken and nerves in his shoulder have been permanently damaged.”
The ‘Sterlite Protest’ in fact has reached as far as London, with a large number of British Tamils carrying traditional ‘parai’ drums held a protest outside the home of Vedanta Group chief Anil Agarwal there on Sunday.
“It is time the British government stopped supporting Sterlite and de-listed Vedanta from the LSE,” said Miriam Rose from Foil Vedanta, one of the organisers of the London protest alongside Tamil People in UK and Parai, Voice of Freedom.
Sterlite was the first company set up by UK-based Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal in India before he launched Vedanta Resources on the LSE in 2003, where it is now a multinational with operations across India and Africa.
Meanwhile, a Vedanta group release said, “The plant has received the necessary regulatory clearances for expansion and our primary commitment is to ensure the development and well-being of all the communities around our operations.”
“Zero discharge systems, utilisation of waste for sustainable applications, energy efficient systems and stringent emission monitoring are the hallmark of Sterlite and these will only be strengthened through the expansion,” it said.
“The smelter plant is self-reliant in terms of power and water requirements and will not use any nearby natural resources,” it added.
Last month, after top district officials led by Sub-Collector MS Prasanth failed to reach an understanding, around 250 people on an indefinite fast protesting against the Sterlite Copper plant and its proposed expansion were arrested.