Sterlite winds up operations in Tamil Nadu, locals relieved

Chennai: The Sterlite Copper plant operated by Vedanta Limited in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district began winding up by Friday afternoon as they completed the three-month duration granted by the Supreme Court to solely operate their oxygen plant until July 31
A private security guard stands in front of the main gate of Sterlite Industries Ltd’s copper plant in Tuticorin in 2013. (Reuters)
A private security guard stands in front of the main gate of Sterlite Industries Ltd’s copper plant in Tuticorin in 2013. (Reuters)
Published on Jul 31, 2021 12:25 AM IST
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Chennai: The Sterlite Copper plant operated by Vedanta Limited in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district began winding up by Friday afternoon as they completed the three-month duration granted by the Supreme Court to solely operate their oxygen plant until July 31.

The facility was closed in May 2018 following large-scale protests and police firing killing 13 civilians but the apex court granted permission given the huge demand for oxygen across the country during Covid second wave.

“The oxygen plant will commence winding off operations today in order to allow enough time for the defrosting process before the date indicated by the Supreme Court,” a statement from Vedanta read.

Meanwhile, Vedanta Limited moved the Supreme Court seeking its extension to continue the operation of its plant in Thoothukudi for producing medical oxygen for another six months. However, the Tamil Nadu government, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, opposed the plea and said that the state currently has enough medical oxygen. Following this, the top court posted the matter next week for a hearing.

This has brought relief to the locals in Thoothukudi who have been fighting for decades for the closure of the copper smelting plant due to complaints of pollution and public health problems. “While there are other methods to augment oxygen, Sterlite should not be allowed to reopen,” said V Gunaseelan, an anti-Sterlite activist based in Thoothukudi. “We feared that they would use this opportunity to gain a backdoor entry. But we are happy that the Tamil Nadu government has made strong arguments in our favour. We were planning more protests but we will remain quiet due to the state’s stance. They have still appealed for an extension. We’ll wait and see.”

Human rights activists had met with Thoothukudi district collector Senthil Raj this evening urging him to cut off electricity and water supply to Vedanta at the earliest.

Vedanta says that to date, they have supplied 2132 MT and 7833nm³ of high purity, medical-grade oxygen to 32 districts in Tamil Nadu. They also have a stock of 134 metric tonnes of liquid medical oxygen within the plant premises. “We have also requested the state government to allow us 2MW of power supply, which will be used to keep the oxygen plant in standby condition and will also be essential in dispatching the stock of oxygen remaining at our plant,” Vedanta said.

Vedanta’s plea to reopen its facility is also pending in the apex court. During the second wave, the company had moved the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing that it could contribute free oxygen for Covid treatment. Tamil Nadu passed a resolution after an all-party meeting led by the previous AIADMK regime which unanimously agreed for the plant to be reopened. The Supreme Court ordered that the oxygen production unit will function on a stand-alone basis, and that Vedanta will not be allowed to access the copper and power plants in the precinct. The court also laid out several conditions which included forming a committee to address apprehensions of the locals.

On the 100th day of the protests against the Vedanta’s facility, 13 civilians were killed in a police firing in May 2018 which is being probed by the CBI. The retired justice Aruna Jagadeesan committee, which is also probing the case, has filed a preliminary report with the new DMK government after which most of the cases against protestors were dropped.

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Monday, October 25, 2021