Two days after a wave of violence gripped Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu where anti-Sterlite protests are underway, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has ordered for closure of production operations at the copper smelter. The TNPCB has further ordered for disconnection of power supply to Sterlite copper.
This decision comes in the wake of Sterlite failing to comply with certain conditions imposed in the previous renewal of consent order issued to the unit. This meant that their application for a fresh renewal this year was rejected. This came to light in early April through a letter written by Vedanta – the parent firm of Sterlite – to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), informing them about the rejection of the application under Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) guidelines.
The latest orders have been issued by the TNPCB under section 33A of the Water(Prevention and Control of Pollution)Act and Section 31A of Air(Prevention and control of Pollution) Act. Now, the unit cannot resume its production operation without obtaining prior approval from the Board.
This drastic step was taken by the TNPCB after its Joint Chief Environmental Engineer who inspected the unit found that it was carrying out activities to resume its production operation and recommended closure and disconnection of power and water supply to the unit.
The reason for the non-renewal of license to Sterlite include - dumping of copper slag, lack of ground water analysis, inappropriate disposal of hazardous waste and failure to conduct studies on arsenic content in environment.
"This is a kneejerk reaction by the state government to the 11 deaths witnessed in Thoothukudi. It is unlikely to be a permanent directive unless a watertight, well-argued order is given," says environmental activist Nityanand Jayraman. "If the Tamil Nadu government really wants to do what is right and lawful, they must keep in mind the major allegations against the company and environmental violations that have been reported. Based on this, substantive arguments need to be made if the order has to be permanent."
On Tuesday, protesters who were conducting a rally to mark the 100th day of the anti-sterlite protests were subjected to police brutality in Thoothukudi district. Eleven agitators were killed in clashes with the police while one more died on Wednesday as the stand-off with the men in khakhi continued.