After well over two decades of protesting over the pollution caused by the Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi and the 13 lives that were lost in last week’s police killings, the Tamil Nadu government has finally endorsed the closure of the plant.
In a Government Order issued on Monday, the Environment and Forests Department noted, “Under sections, 18(1)(b) of the Water Act, 1974 in the larger public interest, the Government endorse the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently.”
The GO cited the non-renewal of the plant’s license by the TNPCB. “It is brought to the notice of the Government that Tamil Nadu Pollution Board did not renew the Consent to Operate to M/s Vedanta Limited, Copper Smelter Plant, SIPCOT Industrial Complex, Thoothukudi District in its order dated 9.4.2018. Subsequently, on 23.5.2018, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has also issued directions for closure and disconnection of power supply to the Unit. The power supply has been disconnected on 24.5.2018.”
On Tuesday, which marked the 100th day of the anti- Sterlite agitations in the state, 11 unarmed protesters were shot dead by the police. In the violence that ensued between the protesting public and the police, two more people succumbed, while many others are still recovering at the Thoothukudi Government General Hospital.
The GO also references Article 48-A of the Constitution, stating, “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
The police action had received widespread condemnation from Opposition parties as well as international human rights bodies.
While the Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the plant on Wednesday and directed the company to have a public consultation, a report found that Vedanta got environmental clearance from the Union government to expand the plant to double the capacity without public consultation, thanks to a reinterpretation of the law by the NDA government.