The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi with immediate effect and disconnected electricity supply to the unit early on Thursday.
Orders to close the plant were issued by the Chairman of the TNPCB on Wednesday. The power supply to the unit was disconnected at 5.15 a.m. on Thursday, sources said.
In its orders, the TNPCB said that during inspections undertaken by its officials on May 18 and 19, it was found that “the unit was carrying out activities to resume its production operations.”
Following this, the Joint Chief Environmental Engineer, Tirunelveli, recommended disconnection of electricity supply to the plant.
The TNPCB ordered the closure and disconnection of electricity supply under 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.
The Board took cognisance of the application made by Vedanta Ltd. seeking renewal of the Consent To Operate (CTO) and the rejection of the application in April by the Board for non-compliance of certain conditions under the previous CTO.
Internet services have been suspended in Tuticorin and the adjoining districts, in an attempt to check escalation of violence after 12 people died protesting against Vedanta's Sterlite Copper plant. Police firing also left several injured in Tamil Nadu's port city of Tuticorin, now called Thoothukudi. The protests intensified on Tuesday following reports suggesting expansion of Vedanta's Sterlite copper unit. The group has since denied seeking licence for expansion. Yesterday, Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the plant after a petition claimed the company was building it without the necessary permission.
As protesters clashed with police personnel, hurling home-made bombs and stones at them, police said they fired live ammunition in the air to disperse the protesters. "We were forced to fire rubber bullets which unfortunately hit one man in the spine and he died," a police officer said, according to AFP. The police chief and the District Collector of Tuticorin were transferred yesterday after fresh firing by police personnel. The Tamil Nadu government appointed a one-person commission of inquiry headed by a retired judge of the Madras High Court, Aruna Jagadeesan, to probe the violence at Tuticorin.
DMK compared the use of force by police to the massacre at Punjab's Jallianwalla Bagh by the British nearly a hundred years ago. The CPI(M) joined the protesters in demanding the shutdown of the Sterlite plant. Congress president Rahul Gandhi called the police action "state sponsored terrorism" and said that the "citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice". Superstar Rajinikanth and actor-politician Kamal Haasan visited people injured in violence at the hospital, and condemned the police action against the protesters.
The Home Ministry is in touch with Tamil Nadu government and a detailed report has been sought on the sequence of events and circumstances leading to loss of human lives on May 22. "The MHA has taken cognisance of the situation and sought a report on the incident and the prevailing situation from the state government," says Home Minister Rajnath Singh. "I appeal to the people in Tuticorin to remain calm and maintain peace and tranquility in the region," he adds.
"Some anti-social elements intruded into the agitation on May 22 and attacked the police, torched the police vehicles. Under tense situation, police resorted to firing and the firing was not pre-plannned," says Chief Minister E Palaniswami.
"State government has been taking steps to close down Sterlite plant, through legal means," says Chief Minister E Palaniswami. "Opposition parties instigating innocent people to agitate. Thoothukudi administrators met agitators 14 times about govt stand. TN pollution control board didn't renew license for Sterlite," he adds.
Addressing the media three days after Tuticorin violence, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami says people's demand will be met legally. He also said that Sterlite's plea for license was rejected.
12 protesters died in police firing in the last two days in Thoothukudi. On Wednesday evening, the Tamil Nadu government invoked a “public emergency” and asked internet service providers to cut off internet services for 5 days in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts, to prevent spread of provocative messages on social media by anti-social elements.