Anti-Sterlite protests: Death toll rises to 13, govt wants plant shut

Protests Against a Copper Plant in Southern India Turn Deadly as 12 People Are Killed by Police

Protests Against a Copper Plant in Southern India Turn Deadly as 12 People Are Killed by Police

Eleven protestors were killed on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.

The plant, in the coastal city of Thoothukudi, has been shut since late March for maintenance and pending a renewal of its license, even as locals continued largely peaceful protests demanding its permanent shutdown.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board cut the power to the smelter on Thursday, saying that last week it found the company preparing to resume production without permission. Almost all of the indirect employees will be rendered jobless as they earn their living from activities associated with the Tuticorin plan, such as supply, logistics, transport, and copper wire units.

The Left party charged the state government with "state sponsored killing" of the protesters and "protecting Sterlite's interests".

Thoothukudi city in southern Tamil Nadu shut down on Thursday as one more person injured in police firing during protests against a copper smelting plant died, taking the toll to 13 and prompting the state government to say it wants the factory closed.

Hearing a petition filed by the protesters, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday stayed the expansion of the plant.

On its part, Sterlite Copper has denied the charges and has said that it will appeal the board's order.

The protests intensified after Vedanta, owned by an Indian billionaire but with its head office in London, sought to double the 400,000-tonne annual capacity of the plant.

As per the company's claims, it is now in a once-in-four-year planned and "extended" shutdown for 45 days since March 27 for repairs and maintenance activities.

Protesters allege the plant does not comply with environmental laws, and dumps copper slag in the river. "It is now shut down as it is under regular maintenance". At present, the company is waiting for clearance from court and government to restart the plant, which is now closed for annual maintenance, he added.

Several investment bankers said that Vedanta's management did have a strong reputation for turning around businesses and keeping costs under control.

Sterlite had got consent to expand the second unit, as the existing one has remained shut for almost two months after the Tamil Nadu pollution control board refused to renew its consent to operate (CTO) the unit. Prices will rise and shortfall will have to be met with imports. This was reportedly due to a gas leak from the plant.

A 2007 report by a Norwegian commission on ethics recommended that the Norwegian pension fund divest from Vedanta Resources because the "company's hazardous waste management and illegal emissions are thought to have generated far-reaching pollution of soil, air, groundwater and drinking water".

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