All Hell Breaks Loose in Thootukudi

In an abysmal turn of events, ten people got killed in a police firing in the coastal town of Thootukudi in TamilNadu. Thootukudi, has been on boil since the past few weeks. The detrimental expansion of the Sterlite Copper unit, has raised a furore in the town. There has been wide-spread protestations against the London-based subsidiary. The situation has worsened with the number of Anti-Sterlite protestors swelling by each day. The situation went haywire on the 22nd of May, when a rally of angry protestors turned violent against the police-force. Resorting to firing, the police claimed the innocent lives of ten. Infuriated by the atrocious action of the police, protestors gathered in mammoth, the very next day.

The egregious action of the police force led to an uproar in the state. With two more lives lost in the succeeding day of protests, the death toll now stands at an appalling twelve. The 22nd May rally marked the 100th day of protest against the Vedanta Group unit. An industrial giant, the Sterlite Copper Unit claims to be the largest producer of Copper in India. Voicing their dissent, the people of Thootukudi urged for the permanent closure of the copper-smelting unit. With the production of non-ferrous metals viz., copper, aluminium and zinc, and chemicals like sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid, the unit has earned the distinction of being one of the only two copper plants in the country.

But the unit has had a tumultuous run in the state. Right from its establishment in 1993, the unit has faced severe opposition from the fishermen community. Backed by the political group of MDMK, the local inhabitants began a vehement agitation against the plant. Even the clever tactic of recruiting locals to the company, failed to quell the protests. But the plant resumed to function after a brief period of closure. The deleterious effects of the 2013 toxic gas leak led to a temporary shutdown of the copper anode manufacturing unit. But the Supreme Court consented to its reopening with a penalty of 100 Crore rupees. Drawing flak from environmentalists, the company was accused of violating environmental regulations, in 2011.In the aftermath of the critical accusations, a probe was ordered by the Supreme Court. NEERI, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute that helmed the investigation, traced calamitous levels of copper, lead, cadmium and fluoride in the groundwater. Inspite of a failure to receive the clearance report from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the company was alleged to have had continued construction. The alarming levels of the harmful elements in the water sources near the plant, triggered massive protests against the expansion of the unit.

In the wake of a `public emergency’, the TNPCB on May 23rd ordered for the permanent closure of the unit. With the disconnection of electricity supply to the plant on the 24th of May the TNPCB has mitigated the escalating tensions in the town. After a thorough investigation on May 18th , and 19th the Board found out that the unit had indeed indulged in expansionary activities. So under the provisions of Section 33A of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and Section 31A of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1971, TNPCB ordered for the shut-down and disconnection of electricity to the unit. The verdict was passed after taking into cognisance the non-compliance of the Vedanta Ltd to certain conditions of the previous `Consent To Operate (CTO)’, which was submitted for renewal in April.

But the actual thing of worry is the disgraceful manner in which the Tamil Nadu government handled the situation. Failing to gauge the intensity of the 100th day of protest, the TN government allowed for the heavy-handedness of the policemen. Lacking that foresight, the government made way for the disproportionate use of the police force. It is indeed disheartening that such a violent protest was staged in the aftermath of the TNCB’s refusal to renew Sterlite Copper’s CTO, in the month of April, 2018. It shows that the people lacked confidence in the ruling party. The government has critically failed to instil faith in its people. The inefficacious manner in which the police-force allowed for the protest to turn violent, shows that the deaths could have been prevented. Going down as one of the gloomiest days in the history of TamilNadu, the Thootukudi massacre is an ugly example of a tyrannical act by an incompetent government.


Picture Credits: IBTimes

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