The Tamil Nadu government has passed a resolution to operate the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi for four months to augment the state's oxygen production. At an all party meeting led by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, different political leaders came together to take a final decision on the matter.
Eight parties at the meeting, including the AIADMK, DMK, Congress, BJP, PMK and Left parties endorsed the reopening of the plant for oxygen production. Vedanta private limited the parent company of Sterlite Copper had written to the Union government, the state government and to the Supreme Court offering its services to produce oxygen last week. The proposal however led to debate as the plant had been shut down in 2018 for violating environmental norms.
The main opposition, DMK, agreed that the plant can be granted temporary permission to function due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi who was present at the meeting said that a committee led by the district collector, superintendent of police and health officials should keep track of the production. The committee, she said, should also have representation of anti-Sterlite protesters, environmentalists and local residents.
The DMK aslo wanted the oxygen to be given free of cost to the residents of the state.
â€śSterlite can be used to produce oxygen alone and not allow it to restart any of its other functions. Tamil Nadu government must provide power supply. This has to be temporary and this permission to produce oxygen should not be as part of a long term move to reopen the plant,â€ť said Kanimozhi to the media.
While BJP chief L Murugan merely reiterated that the oxygen produced should be used to a large extent in Tamil Nadu, MDMK chief Vaiko said the state government should take over the unit to produce oxygen.
He insisted that the required engineers can be lent from public sector undertakings and that Vedanta should not be allowed to operate the unit on its own.
However, just hours before the meeting convened, Vedanta filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court asserting that the Tamil Nadu government should not be allowed to take over the oxygen plant. The company claimed that the state government does not have the required operational expertise.
Vedanta-owned Sterlite had petitioned in the Supreme Court requesting permission to reopen the plant to manufacture medical oxygen and supply to those in need. The companyâ€™s plea came amid the severe oxygen crisis across the country. According to the government, Sterlite can produce 35 MT per day and this can be distributed to 6 districts.
Tamil Nadu currently has an oxygen supply of 400 MT, but the state government predicts that the demand could rise up to 450 MT as cases continue to rise. Some portion of this is distributed to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Therefore, if the consumption in the state rises, the state will find it necessary to tap into all possible sources of oxygen to help patients.
Sterlite was sealed shut in 2018 for violation of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) norms after 13 civilians were killed in an anti-Sterlite protest. While Sterlite said it was ready to do the needful to manufacture oxygen, the state government vehemently opposed the companyâ€™s plea, stating that reopening the plant will lead to law and order issues in the district.
Following this, the District Collector of Thoothukudi had also conducted a public hearing in his office regarding the reopening of the plant, given the medical oxygen situation across the country. After a majority of the people present in the hearing opposed the reopening of the plant, the District Collector passed a resolution against Sterliteâ€™s request.
The court is scheduled to hear the plea on Monday.