“Thoothukudi Akin to Jallianwala Bagh Massacre”
DMK spokesperson to The Citizen
NEW DELHI: DMK announced a state-wide bandh to support the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi. The protest started in February 2018 against the expansion of the Sterlite plant situated in Thoothukudi (also known as Tuticorin). Over 13 people have been killed by police during the protest, the number of injured are higher and not accounted yet.
DMK MP T.K.S.Elangovan told The Citizen, “The state-wide bandh is to condemn the police action in Thoothukudi. Open fire on the protesters is against the principles of the nation and this incident can be compared to Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The highly pollution plant needs to be shut as it is functioning while flouting the environmental norms.” He also mentioned that the Chief Minister refused to meet Stalin, the leader of opposition on Thursday.
Locals have been protesting against the expansion of the plant since February. They have alleged that the plant has been responsible for polluting the groundwater. This has led to severe health problems for the locals. Additionally, the plant is located in a residential area which has led to thousands of people living with health hazards.
Fatima Babu, a resident of the area filed a PIL against the industries on the grounds that it has been set up illegally. The PIL states ‘Original environmental clearance and each renewal was illegally obtained by availing exemption from public consultation by misrepresenting the location of the project as being within a ‘notified Industrial Estate/complex’.’
Fatima Babu also mentions that the industry is a health hazard and against the right to clean and safe environment of the citizens of Thoothukudi.
Dharamesh Shah, an environmentalist working in Thoothukudi told The Citizen, “The government has failed in their duty to ensure protection for the employees and the environment.” He also mentioned an incident when a local employee was hurt and had to undergo amputation. According to Employees State Insurance Scheme of the government, he is entitled to a life-long compensation, which the company refused to provide.
Shah also stated that the company has violated both environmental and humanitarian laws.
The company’s website however mentions in their mission statement that it aims to Create a workplace that respects and values all employees and promotes innovation.
Additionally, the corporation maintains that the functioning of the plant is not damaging to the local environment. The website states, “Sterlite Copper is zero liquid discharge company from the date of inception. The solid wastes from effluent treatment plants are disposed in a Secured Landfill designed as per CPCB guidelines.”
While talking to The Financial Times, CEO of Sterlite Copper is quoted, “the company had offered to open its gates for people to see for themselves than believe rumours and half-truths.” However, protesters maintain that they don’t care about the internal functioning of the plant, they are concerned with the environmental damage caused.
The Sterlite Plant has a current capacity of producing 400,000 TPA of Copper Anode, the expansion aims at doubling the capacity to 800,000 TPA.
On the website, Sterlite Copper mentions that their mission is to ensure zero tolerance towards safety, environment and governance.
While the company maintains that disposal of waste is under the guidelines, Shah counters, “The waste is not disposed in landfills, it is randomly disposed which has affected the groundwater, which thereby affects the health of the local community.”
Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said that the anti-Sterlite protests are instigated by Opposition parties along with anti-social elements for their vested interests.
While talking to media, Palaniswami said, “The Tamil Nadu government has actively been taking steps to shut down the Sterlite Copper plant through legal measures.”
He also denied allegations that the shooting carried out by the police on May 22 were planned.
Around 13 people were killed when the police in order to control protesters, open fired at the crowd. Section 144 of Criminal Code Procedure has been imposed in the area and internet has been cut.
A video showing a policeman saying, “Stop Acting, go away” while prodding a victim. 22 year old, Kaliappan was shot during the protest and declared dead shortly after by the hospital.
Police has maintained that the firing was necessary to control the crowd. According to the police, the crowd was getting too violent and overturning police vehicles. The collector and the SP of the district have been transferred but no action has been taken against them.
All India Kisan Sabha issued a statement in solidarity with the Anti-Sterlite Protests on Thursday, demanding the resignation of the Chief Minister, Judicial Enquiry, scrapping of the plant along with Rs. 1 crore compensation for the families of the victims. The statement mentions that AIKS salutes the people who have been leading a consistent peaceful struggle against the plant.
Vendata, the parent company of Sterlite Copper, has been a contributor to the BJP during last elections, according to a 2014 business standard article.
Shah on the other hand stated, “In 2003 Sterlite Company cheated the government crores of rupees in taxes and got caught. The person who took up their legal case was PC Chidambaram, ex-home Minister of India, and a lawyer by profession. Chidambaram was also a member on the board of directors of Vedanta Company for a while.”
Sterlite Copper as a corporation is a classic example the mutually beneficial relationship between political parties and major corporate companies. Sterlite Copper has flouted environmental and humanitarian norms, with the backing of parties in power.
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has not issued any public statement regarding the police brutality or the Sterlite Copper as a company. In response to the public outrage, Vedanta Limited issued a public statement on May 24 stating the shut down of the Thoothukudi plant.