Madras HC stays work at Sterlite unit after violent protests, rights body sends notice to Tamil Nadu
A court suspended the expansion of a copper smelting plant and India’s human rights watchdog sent notices to the Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday after police firing on protesters marching against the facility a day before killed nine people in Thoothukudi city.
The Madurai bench of the Madras high court ordered the Vedanta group to stop the expansion of its Sterlite copper plant in the coastal city also known as Tuticorin, reported The Hindu newspaper. The court said the company’s plea for renewing its environment clearance should be processed within four months after conducting a public hearing.
Thousands of protesters on Tuesday hurled stones at security personnel, set vehicles on fire and attacked government offices in the port town, around 600 km from the state capital of Chennai.
The National Human Rights Commission asked Tamil Nadu’s chief secretary and director general of police (DGP) to give it a report within two weeks, reports news agency ANI. The union home ministry asked the Tamil Nadu government to give it details about the violence.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s government, which is under severe criticism for the deaths, announced retired high court judge Aruna Jagadeesan will head a one-person commission to probe the violence. The commission has not been given a deadline.
Opposition leader MK Stalin, working president of the DMK party, accused Palaniswami’s government of murder. “Will @CMOTamilNadu take action against DGP for failing to maintain law and order? Will Chief Secretary explain her role in this entire episode? Will there be justice for #SterliteProtes?” said Stalin on Twitter.
“We must know who ordered this firing. It is not me but the victims who are demanding this. Merely announcing compensation isn’t a solution. This industry must be shut and this is what people demand,” said actor-politician Kamal Haasan.
The plant, one of India’s largest such facilities, has had a troubled history since it began operations in 1996. People have blamed it for their failing health and a major gas leak in 2013 led the Supreme Court imposing a Rs 100- crore fine. The plant has been closed down repeatedly in the past two decade, the last time by the Madras high court in 2013 over similar pollution concerns.
Shares of Vedanta Ltd declined both on the BSE and NSE.
(With agency inputs)