New Delhi: The Thootukudi copper smelter at Tuticorin, run by Vedanta Ltd's Sterlite Copper unit has been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed until at least June 6 because the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has said the facility is not complying with environmental rules.
People in Toothukudi are demanding the closure of Sterlite copper smelting plant alleging that it was polluting the area, and leading to severe health problems among the residents of the locality, besides depleting the water table. The ongoing anti-Sterlite protests turned violent with thousands of people from nearby areas allegedly attacking the District Collectorate demanding closure of the Vedanta Group-run company. So far 11 people have died in police firing.
Some would call it sort of a déjà vu, but Vedanta's Sterlite plant is no stranger to controversy ever since it was proposed in 1995.
Sterlite's smelting plant with our lakh tonne capacity at Tuticorin was rejected by three states –Gujarat , Goa and Maharashtra – because of its highly polluting nature, before it was allowed to be set-up in Tamil Nadu, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has said.
"While taking Environment Clearance (EC), the company had flouted norms by misrepresenting facts and giving a faulty Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report,” CSE has said.
"In fact, a Supreme Court (SC) monitoring committee in 2004 found the plant had not provided adequate infrastructure and facilities for management of highly toxic arsenic-containing wastes. The plant was also found to be emitting sulphur dioxide far in excess of the permissible standards.
"In 2010, the Madras High Court closed the plant because it was polluting the environment and had flouted norms while setting up the plant," CSE said.
Several cases have been filed against the plant since it started in 1996, and the Supreme Court in 2013 fined it about $18 million for breaking environmental laws.
The next year, Vedanta lost a battle to mine bauxite in the a lushly forested area, Niyamgiri hills in Odisha state, that the Dongria Kondh tribe there considers sacred.
The rejection forced the company to not only import expensive bauxite for an aluminium plant in the same state but to also delay its expansion.
It may also be recalled that the government-run Norwegian Pension Fund had dropped Vedanta from its investment portfolio in 2007, partly because of environmental issues in India. In 2014, the fund dropped Vedanta`s then unit, Sesa Sterlite.
Norway`s Council on Ethics, which makes recommendations to the pension fund, said it did a "particularly thorough assessment" of Vedanta Resources in 2016 and found grounds to stay away from it. Edinburgh-based investment fund Martin Currie has also sold off its Vedanta shares on ethical grounds.
With Reuters Inputs