Chennai: The Tamil Nadu government today shut down the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tuticorin for good, meeting the long standing demand of the local residents. The decision, said Chief Minister E Palaniswami, has been made "in respect to public sentiments".
- Order by the government "in the larger public interest"
- Sterlite has been repeatedly accused of violating pollution norms
- 13 people had died in the anti-Sterlite protest in Tuticorin
The order by the government said "in the larger public interest", the state Pollution Control Board was being asked to "seal the unit and close the plant permanently".
Sterlite has been repeatedly accused of violating pollution norms - a factor that has led to high incidence of cancer and other diseases in the area, activists said. But despite repeated legal action, the company has managed to stay afloat and was even planning a second plant to double its capacity.
In a statement, London-based Vedanta Ltd, which controls Sterlite, said the Tamil Nadu government's order to close down the plant was "unfortunate" and said it would decide the future course of action after studying the development.
"Closure of Sterlite Copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since, we have operated the plant for over 22 years in most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to the Tuticorin and state's socio-economic development. We will study the development and decide on the future course of action," Vedanta said in a statement.
The locals in the area had been on a three-month protest, which ended in tragedy last week as 13 protesters died in clash with police. Their demand was for a permanent closure for the plant, which is currently shut after failing to get license from the state pollution control body.
Over the years, many locals suffered from cancer and other respiratory diseases. Activists said there has also been considerable air and ground water pollution, which Sterlite has been denying.
The company had started work on a second plant to double its capacity - but the Madras High Court put a stop to it last week.
Since it started in 1996, Sterlite, has faced lengthy legal battles over environmental concerns.
In 2010, the Madras High court ordered it to shut, but three years later, the ruling was set aside by the Supreme Court. The company was, however, told to pay Rs. 100 crores in compensation.
The pollution regulator had also shut the plant for some time in 2013 after allegations that a "toxic" gas leak had caused breathing, throat and eye problems among residents. The authorities, however, failed to prove the charge.
This time, the protests by locals had reached a peak last Tuesday, when the clash took place.
Mr Palaniswami has blamed what he called "incitement" by the opposition for the protest turning violent. And he defended the police, who opened fire on the protesters on Tuesday, saying they were protecting life and property.
The police said they had to open fire to control the protesters, who had started throwing stones. But videos from the spot, showing plainclothes policemen taking a strategic position on top of a bus and firing on the crowds below, triggered outrage.