TNPCB cuts power to Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi after police firing on protesters
Tamil Nadu’s environment regulator on Thursday cut power supply to the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, stepping in after clashes between the police and protesters who blame the facility for pollution left 11 people dead this week.
The Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board said the smelter, which was shut pending renewal of its operating licence, was found last week to be carrying out activity to resume production without permission.
“The issue of renewal of consent for the year 2018-2023 has been rejected ... due to non compliance of certain conditions,” the board said in an order dated Wednesday.
Developers require the permission of a state pollution control board to establish and operate plants after first getting environmental clearance from the central government. The state board’s permission is renewed every six to nine months.
Protests against the copper plant, which is run by the by London-listed Vedanta Resources, have been simmering for over two decades and environment groups allege that regulators failed to resolve concerns raised by people living near the facility.
Government agencies in audits have raised concerns about the plant’s waste management and pollution control measures and environment groups have challenged how central and state regulators gave it clearances to operate.
The union environment ministry in 2009 allowed Sterlite to expand the plant, arguing that the company did not need to hold public hearing to get clearance because the second plant it planned to build lay within the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamilnadu Ltd industrial (SIPCOT) area that already had environmental clearance
Vedanta has denied the plant causes pollution. “We do have all the required permissions on ground to proceed with our expansion project,” said Vivek Thomas, a spokesperson for Vedanta.
The Madras High Court on Wednesday ordered a stay on the plant’s expansion and directed that a public hearing be held. “We have been able to show that the expanded area is not part of SIPCOT--they cannot bypass the public consultation,” said Shweta Narayan, an environment activist who has held protests at the plant.
The Supreme Court in 2013 fined Sterlite Rs 100 crore for environmental damage it had caused between 1997 and 2012. But the same year, Sterlite’s environmental clearance was extended by two years till 2015 as a result of an amendment to the rules extending the validity of clearances from five to seven years. In 2015, the company again applied for an extension for five years, which was granted till the end of 2018.