Tuticorin: There is a palpable sense of gloom at Kumareddiyarpuram village, just a kilometre behind the Sterlite plant in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin, which is the ground zero for the three-month-long protests against the copper plant. It was the agitation by farmers here over the past three months that had struck a chord with people and intensified the anti-Sterlite campaign that ended with the deaths of 13 people.
- Kumareddiyarpuram village: The ground zero of anti-Sterlite protests
- The 3-month-long protests intensified this week and left 13 people dead
- Some 20,000 people had gathered to mark the 100th day of their protests
The day when the clashes happened was when some 20,000 people had gathered to mark the hundredth day of their protests.
In deep shock and allegedly under intimidation by the police and fear of harassment by investigators, many have left the village. Only a few among those left there mustered courage to open up after lots of persuasion.
They say while they have been silently suffering and fighting against Sterlite's reported pollution and the consequent health impact, Sterlite's expansion plans touched a raw nerve as construction for its second plant is coming up right next to their farmlands, threatening their livelihood.
The construction has now been stayed by court. It stands over the very land which the villagers say they were coerced by the state government to part with for the copper major at a paltry Rs 80,000 an acre.
The new plant coming up at their backyard, the villagers alleged, will completely destroy cultivation and turn their fields barren and pollute groundwater.
"I may live only for another three or four years but we protested so that our children and grandchildren could live. Where can we go now? Can we buy any land or house now?" said Murugaperumal Reddy, a farmer who sold his land.
Many said that in the last three months since the plant was shut for want of clearances, their areas received good rain and their crops have rejuvenated. Pointing toward his lush green vegetation, another farmer who asked not to be named said, "With thick smoke coming from Sterlite's chimneys round-the-clock, we never used to get rain. But now with the plant shut we received good summer showers and see the change. We had no awareness when we were made to sell our lands."
M Latha lost her brother and sister living in this village to cancer. She too blames it on smoke from the copper smelting plant and alleged discharge of effluents underground on its premises. "If we don't fight, we can't live in this village. We will have to just vacate. That's the situation," she said.
At least twenty-five women in the village have had to surgically remove their uterus, some due to cancer. M Latha's daughter-in-law, Valliammal, is also worried about her five-year-old daughter who has developed inexplicable joint pain.
"There is no other cause. It's only because of the smoke from the Sterlite factory we are badly affected. My two-year-old child cries every night saying her legs hurt," said Ms Valliammal.
Citing environment violations, the state government has disconnected power supply to the Sterlite plant after turning down its plea for approval. Without mentioning a specific response to the people's demand for Sterlite's closure, Chief Minister E Palaniswami said the government is addressing public concerns in a legal way.
"Even our leader Jayalalithaa ordered shutting down of Sterlite in 2013. But the National Green Tribunal allowed it to resume operations with conditions. Our appeal is still pending in the Supreme Court. We respect public sentiments and would do everything within the legal framework," the chief minister has said.
Sterlite has claimed total compliance, though the Supreme Court had fined Rs 100 crore a few years ago. Its chairman Anil Agarwal recently said in an interview that he was ready to reopen the plant.