At least 10 people were killed and more than 50 injured on 22 May 2018 as police fired on demonstrators protesting against Sterlite copper in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) a port town in Tamilnadu. One of them was killed in a second incident of firing in the evening when protesters had gathered in another part of the town to protest against the earlier firing. Nine more were battling for life in hospital. Most had bullet marks on their face, chest or abdomen. One of them is a girl aged 17, said a doctor attached to the Tuticorin district medical office. Around 20,000 strong demonstration was being held to mark the 100th day of the current round of protest against the Sterlite Copper a unit of London based Vedanta Resources, one of the world’s largest metal and mining transnational corporations. This indefinite struggle was launched on 12th February 2018 to demand closure of the plant and refusal of permission for starting another unit of the plant. The protestors had applied for permission for the protest many days before but the District administration clamped Section 144 in the town to try to prevent the protest. This further angered the protestors who marched to the District Collectorate where the police resorted to the firing. Police brutality on the direction of the Govt. in the service of a mining giant (MNC) owned by Anil Agarwal, was much in evidence as police not only stopped the people from exercising their democratic right, they started beating up the people to disperse them. Police even dragged a youth from a hospital and killed him. This massacre is another instance of the crimes of the ruling parties against the people of the country.
Despite anger against this organized massacre, police continued suppression of the people and killed further three persons in police firing on 23rd of May. It showed that the RSS-BJP Central Govt. and Tamilnadu Govt. propped up by them, cared little about the people’s interests or their rights and will do every thing to protect the interests of the corporate.
There has been opposition from the people to this copper smelting plant from its inception in 1996 because of concerns about pollution. As soon as it received the permissions from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests in January 1995, these were challenged before the Madras High Court in 1996. The company, however, went ahead and set up the plant that commenced production in 1997. Fresh petitions were filed seeking directions to take suitable action against the company for alleged failure to take safety measures due to which there were pollution and industrial accidents at the plant. In September 2010, the High Court allowed and disposed the writ petitions with the direction to the company to close down its Tuticorin plant. The company went in appeal to the Supreme Court which passed an interim order staying the High Court order. In 2013 on March 29, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board was forced to order closure of the plant after local residents complained about noxious emissions. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in its order dated April 2, 2013, set aside the High Court order for closure. Instead it directed the company to deposit Rs 100 crore within three months with the Collector. The money was to be utilised for taking measures to improve the environment, including water and soil in the vicinity of the plant. How this improvement could take place in the face of continuing pollution from the plant is a question that the Supreme Court never answered. Meanwhile, now the company is seeking to expand the plant building another unit to double the capacity from the current 400,000 tons per year to 800,000 tons per year.
The plant was closed since 27th March 2018 by the management for so called maintenance for 15 days. Actually the license from the TNPCB for operating the plant has expired on 31st March. The company applied for a 5 yr extension of license. However in the face of strong peoples opposition and agitation, the TNPCB was forced to reject the application on 9th April 2018 citing five technical grounds, including non submission of the report of the test on groundwater in villages in the neighbourhood of the plant and the discharge of hazardous waste in violation of rules. The company has moved the Appellate Authority challenging the rejection.
The demonstration on 22nd May was preceded by various forms of protest over the last 100 days including indefinite fast by around 250 people who were arrested, successful strike called by over 50 associations on 25th March, and a huge demonstration by thousands in Tuticorin and even a demonstration by British Tamils at the home of Vedanta Chief Anil Agarwal in London.
In 2008 a study found that the iron content in the water sources of two villages near the plant was 20 times more than the permitted limit. Dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide emissions have been repeatedly documented. A study by the Tiruneveli Medical College in 2008 covering 80,725 people residing within a 5 km radius of the smelting plant found that 13.9 % of the population suffered from respiratory diseases. It stated that “The attributable cause is…the presence of gases, mixture of gases and particulate matter”. The study has been kept under wraps. Those suffering from respiratory ailments state that the doctors say that living in the vicinity of Sterlite is the problem but they do not write down that reason.
Violations of the laws and false claims by sterlite abound. There are even documents to show that environmental clearance given to the expansion project in 2009 was illegal and based on false documents. The clearance was given without a public hearing stating that it was not required since the location was to be in the already notified area of the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT). SIPCOT backed this assertion in the High Court which ruled that public consultation was not required in this case. In January 2018 a public hearing was scheduled for a new industrial park by SIPCOT. The survey numbers for the 1,616 acres of land required for this were released by SIPCOT. Activists found that most of these survey numbers were the same as in the list submitted by Sterlite and approved for its new plant. This basically means that this land was not in industrial park area when not having public hearing was approved by the high court. SIPCOT had made false claims to allow Sterlite to acquire the permissions for its new plant. .
CPI(ML) New Democracy strongly condemns these murders by the state to serve the interests of a corporate. We demand that the plant be shut down immediately. Officers who ordered prevention of the rally should be removed without delay and police officers responsible for these killings be arrested and tried for murder. We demand that the state Govt. which has organized such a crime, must resign without delay. We also demand that the people who have lost their kin, who have suffered injuries or who have suffered from the ill effects of the functioning of the plant be adequately compensated. We call for countrywide protests against these murders and for the above demands.
CPI(ML) New Democracy calls upon all party units and revolutionary people to protest against this massacre and on the above listed demands. We also appeal to all revolutionary organizations, democratic rights organizations and democrats to raise their voice against this massacre and for the punishment of the guilty of this heinous crime.
May 23, 2018