Vedanta Private Limited sprung a surprise on activists against the Sterlite Copper Plant on Monday by providing the committee formed by the National Green Tribunal 45,000 representations in favour of the copper smelter. The letter were submitted to the three member committee when it held a hearing in Chennai based on Vedanta's petition to reopen the plant.
This submission by Vedanta comes merely a day after the expert panel inspected the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. After their visit, they also chaired a public consultation meeting in Thoothukudi, in which they received letters from general public about the future of the plant. The session saw minor altercations and scuffles between groups for and against the plant. Tarun Agarwal, chairman of the three-member committee formed by the NGT had observed at the end of it that of the 2000 odd letters received, a majority wanted the factory to be shut down.
Then how were the 45,000 petitions submitted on Monday?
"After the plant shut down, stakeholders came up to us and explained that were adversely affected by the move. They wanted a way to ensure that the plant was reopened and asked how they can oppose the move," said M Esakkiappan, Public Relations Officer for Sterlite Copper. "We discussed this and then leaders from every village began collecting letters from residents who didn't want the plant to shut down. We demanded that a copy of the Aadhaar card be given with the submissions to prevent duplication," he added.
The petitions they have received is apparently from villagers, their own employees, contract workers, contractors, Truckers Associations, farmer associations and other stakeholders. Many residents of Kumarettiyapuram, South Veerapandiapuram, Silverpuram, Thoothukudi town have all sent in letters supporting the plant. The company blamed its inability to submit these petitions on the first day of hearing on anti Sterlite protestors.
"Over 4000 people came yesterday to submit their petitions but they were abused and turned away by anti-Sterlite protestors," says the public relations officer. "They were supposed to come in batches. But they were frightened of the other group," he claimed.
The anti-Sterlite protesters however dismissed this allegation vehemently.
"When we asked a few people who came to the Collector's office why they were in favour of Sterlite, they claimed that they had no idea what the meeting was about. They had been brought in by contractors and told to give a copy of their Aadhaar card. We believe they have been paid bribes upto Rs.2000. If this is true, the government should look into this, " alleged Fatima Babu of the Anti-Killer Sterlite People's Movement . "Moreover, we never stopped any pro-Sterlite petitioners. We were offended but not violent," she claimed.
Activists further allege that Sterlite has been collecting letters for the last three months and have paid amounts varying from Rs.300 to Rs.2000.
The committee headed by Justice Agarwal and members - scientists Satish C Garkoti and H D Varalaxmi meanwhile, only had time to listen to Sterlite's arguments on Monday and the next hearing has been scheduled for October 5.
After the hearing that took place from 10.30 am to 2.30 pm at Kalas Mahal, MDMK founder Vaiko who was representing those opposing the reopening of the plant, told the media, "The tribunal heard what the company had to say. It should give a chance to the voices of those who have lost family members during the protests, farmers, fishermen and real traders. The committee has agreed to hear our arguments first on October 5. I have told the tribunal that Sterlite is an environmental disaster."