History of Protests
FAQ – History of Protests
The vested interest groups have misled people by levelling various allegations against the operations of the plant. There has been continuous assessments by regulatory bodies and technological institutes on the operations, processes, material handling (both raw material and process waste) – there have been no observation in the past 5 years of operations.
- The protests were triggered after the surrounding villages realized about the expansion plans. The expansion of the plant had been underway since December 2017. The company had received grievances from the local community around requirements of road and water and had been actively addressing the same. There are reports that cite the presence of anti-social elements which indulged in violence during the protest1 and “external forces” were responsible for instigating the agitation against the company.
- On February 5, 2018, a group of villagers from Kumareddiyarpuram protested demanding to stop the construction activities of smelter expansion project – Also made a representation to the District Collector citing dust and noise pollution due to truck movement to project site. Subsequently the protestors made unfounded allegations around the environmental practices of the existing plant.
- On 24th March 2018, the protest gathered momentum with the help of social media, and around 15000 protestors assembled at one of the town’s parks.
- The First Red Flag: On 12th April 2018, the representatives of the company: employees, contract workforce and vendors made a peaceful demonstration at the company premises and made a representation to the district collector. After the gathering, the bus carrying women and children who were returning were singled out, ambushed and was subject to brutal stone pelting by miscreants in broad day light. This incident had cast a fear in the minds of the people who were supporting the company and ensured their voices will never be heard.
- Leading to the 100th day of the protest, there were various pamphlets, posters and social media messages calling the residents of Tuticorin to participate in the “முற்றுகை போராட்டம்” – which roughly translates to “Blockade protest” – The aim was to blockade the District Collector office and close the company, which was already closed due to CTO not being renewed.
- The company, sensing the threat had approached the Madurai Bench of Madras HC for imposing 144. The District Collector Office had hosted a meeting with the different protesting groups for changing the protest location to the playground of a nearby school premises.
- About 22nd May incident: It is with great sorrow and regret that we witnessed the tragic incident on 22nd May 2018, which, was a result of the police’s actions in the Tamil Nadu state in India. We have extended our support to those members of the local communities that have been affected by the events. We have been working with the relevant authorities to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities, our employees and facilities.
- It is also pertinent to note that the employees of Sterlite have also been a victim of this protest. The employees residing in the residential quarters – Tamira Nikethan 2 – adjacent to the District collector office had also been vandalized and the properties of the employees had been arson
- The Sterlite Copper plant has been non-operational since 25 March 2018 (initially due to maintenance works). Following the protests, on 28 May 2018, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered a permanent closure of the Sterlite Copper Plant. Prior to its closure, the Sterlite Copper plant has been operating within all applicable environmental regulations and standards and had all the required approvals and clearances. The protestors made unfounded allegations around the environmental practices of the existing plant.
Sterlite had planned to establish the copper smelter in Rathnagiri, Maharashtra. While the construction of the project had started, the people in the vicinity staged a protest fearing pollution from the proposed operations of the plant. Meanwhile, the management were also evaluating other options for establishing the copper smelter and had received interest from multiple states for setting up the plant. The proposal from The Government of Tamil Nadu was found to be favorable as the location Tuticorin was a thriving port location, the state had surplus power for industries and the state provided adequate road infrastructure for movement of goods.
In July 1997, the employees of Ramesh Flowers were subjected to nausea and vomiting, it was alleged to a gas leak from a shed in the copper smelter, the district collector had issued a closure notice based on the complaint received. An expert committee headed by Dr. M.P. Chockalingam was formed to investigate the issue. The committee had found that there were no leakage of SO2 and provided a clean chit to reopen the plant.
Upon perusal of the above, it may clearly be understood that on both occasions (i.e., on 23.11.1998 & 28.09.2010) while the High Court of Madras ordered closure, upon detailed scrutiny, the plant was immediately reopened.
NGT’s final order dated 08.08.2013 also clearly states the following, “The cumulative effect of the report is that the Appellant – company’s unit has been found non – polluting and non – health hazardous during the considerably long period of operation over which the Special Expert Committee controlled and supervised the operation.”
Further, it goes to say that, “Admittedly, SIPCOT is an industrial cluster within which the Appellant – company’s plant is also located. It is also now clear from the records before us that there are a large number of industries, including ones categorized as ‘red industries’ which emit different types of gases.”
The company was shut down, due to “alleged” violations and later the enquiry commission that was set-up cleared the allegations charged on the company and permitted the company to operate. As explained above, all the 5 times, Sterlite being the largest industry is victimized but various different Committees/ Commissions appointed have exonerated Sterlite from such accusations. These allegations are mischievously repeated and re-stated, though all have been dealt with in Supreme Court and NGT judgments of 2013 wherein they were put to rest.
Ever since 2013, there has not been a single “Show-Cause Notice” issued by the regulatory body – Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on account of pollution / process violation. The unit has been continuously assessed provided with the Consent to Operate by the TNPCB.
Sterlite Copper is located in SIPCOT industrial complex wherein other red category chemical industries are located. Sterlite Copper is Zero Liquid Discharge Company and does not affect the marine ecosystem in any manner. Further, the current EIA rules, 2006 stipulate a distance of 10km from eco-sensitive areas, which is reduced from 25 Kms stated previously.
Additionally, Gulf of Mannar is not yet notified as National Marine Park as per Environmental Protection Act or as per Wildlife Protection Act. It was only intended to declare as National Marine Park, but till date, it is not notified. This matter was debated in detail in the Hon’ble Supreme Court (Case: Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, Etc, Versus Union of India & Ors. Etc.) and both State Government and Central Government accepted that it is not yet notified as National Marine Park.
Hon’ble Supreme Court has observed from the earlier NEERI reports (1998, 2005) that there were certain deviations in some parameters but also observes that it does not warrant a conclusion that the plant will not be able to take remedial steps to improve the environment. Subsequently, the company undertook remedial measures as per TNPCB recommendation to eliminate the possibility of any such deviations, and since then all the parameters have been regularly monitored by authorities and found to be within prescribed norms.
In addition to the above, in some years between 1999 – 2005 and 2008-2013, the plant operated under a deemed consent. As per Water Act 1972, if the consent is not renewed by any Pollution Control Board after the application, it will be a deemed consent. In these years, the Consent to Operate was not renewed by TNPCB, though the plant had applied and paid fees for renewal on time. During this non-renewal period all inspections, air and water sampling were conducted regularly by the TNPCB and found within prescribed limits.
Though the consent was renewed later, Hon’ble Supreme court cited this non-renewal period as a concern and hence asked us to deposit INR 100 crores to the District Collector to carry out remedial action in case of any environmental damage. So far this fund has not been used for any pollution abatement measures, which clearly indicates that there is no such concerns as feared and the interest amount has only been utilized for community welfare measures.
The company has been communicating well with our stakeholders and remained committed to a transparent dialogue with all the relevant authorities, regulatory bodies and all stakeholders. Since the initial protests, the company representatives had met with the protesters and other stakeholders to understand their concerns.
We published a series of advertorials to reach out to the general public and have been involved in debates/ discussions on regional and national TV channels. We would also like to reiterate that the Sterlite Copper plant has been operating within all applicable environmental regulations and standards.
Activism is common in the natural resources industry, especially when a democratic country is undergoing economic development. We remain committed to operating as a responsible business to the highest international standards of sustainability and corporate governance.
Recommendations and compliance:
NGT recommendations and their status:
Under Air Act
Under Air Act
UNDER WATER ACT