Political Parties Take to Thoothukudi Streets to Welcome Madras HC's Sterlite Verdict

The court's refusal to allow the reopening of the plant met with grand celebrations in spite of a Section 144 order.

Thoothukudi: After the Madras high court on Tuesday dismissed UK-based Vedanta Limited’s pleas for permission to re-open the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, political parties in the area were quick to unleash grand celebrations in spite of a Section 144 order across the district.

A two-judge Madras high court bench of Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan, in their 815-page judgment, upheld the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) order to close the copper smelting unit in May 2018. The verdict was scheduled to be delivered in March this year but was postponed due to the coronavirus situation.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLA in charge of the district, P. Geetha Jeevan, welcomed the court’s verdict by bursting crackers with party members.

DMK’s P Geetha Jeevan addressing the press after the Sterlite verdict. Photo: Author provided.

Speaking to reporters, Geetha Jeevan said, “DMK welcomes this verdict. People from Thoothukudi and neighbouring districts are sharing their joy with each other over the verdict, especially because this is a victory of the Sterlite protests which claimed the lives of 13 people.”

When Thoothukudi DSP Ganesh reached the spot to ask the DMK MLAs to stop bursting crackers, a heated exchange of words took place between the policeman and the DMK MLA.

Meanwhile, party members continued with fireworks and celebrations despite the warning and distributed sweets.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam too was not far behind. Under the leadership of the party’s Srivaikuntam MLA S.P. Shanmuganathan, AIADMK party members also burst firecrackers and distributed sweets across Thoothukudi. A few anti-Sterlite protesters also joined the party members in celebration.

Remembering the victims who either died or where injured in the police firing which took place in May 2018 in Thoothukudi over the Sterlite expansion issue, CPI(M) members also raised slogans in favour of the Sterlite verdict and distributed ladoos. “Bravo, bravo to the martyrs of the anti-Sterlite protest,” shouted the Left party members, who had gathered with their party flag in front of Thoothukudi’s Rajaji Park on Tuesday.

The Madras high court’s judges on Tuesday maintained that the Sterlite plant falls under ‘red category industry’ and must be permitted to function only in ‘special hazardous use zones’.

Currently, the plant is situated with the 25 km radius of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park. Reacting to the arguments, Vedanta contended that the plant was not causing higher levels of pollutions as claimed by TNPCB and that the plant’s waste was non-hazardous. Thoothukudi residents and politicians from various parties were also present during Tuesday’s hearing on the issue.

The Sterlite copper smelter unit has long been mired in controversy over ecological contamination and health-related issues.

In March 2013, TNPCB had ordered the shutting down of plant operations after a noxious gas which posed a health hazard to locals, began leaking.

AIADMK members burst crackers in Thoothukudi. Photo: Author provided.

In 2016, the Supreme Court had directed the Sterlite copper smelting plant to pay a compensation of Rs 100 crore for causing damage to the environment for a period between 1997 and 2012. The apex court had, however, allowed the plant to reopen.

Citing violation of environmental laws, TNPCB had in May 2018 dismissed Sterlite copper unit’s application to renew operations. The plant had been functioning from 1995 to 2018 without a valid consent to operate (COT). The TNPCB had also said that the plant had failed to adhere to mandatory environment impact assessment (EIA) protocols.

Also read: Tamil Nadu Police Shot Anti-Sterlite Protesters in Head, Chest: Report

The plant was shut down in May 2018 based on the TNPCB order which was issued in the aftermath of violent protests over Sterlite’s proposed plan of setting up another smelting complex in Therkuveerapandiyapuram village. At least 13 people were killed on May 21 and May 22, 2018 and several others were injured in police firing in the district.