Thousands of protesters gather at Thoothukudi collectorate demanding re-opening of Sterlite copper plant

Last week a report by NGT had said that closure of the plant was unjustified and not sustainable

Months after Tamil Nadu government issued orders of the closure of Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi following massive citizen protests, people are now coming forward with the demand to re-open the smelting unit of the factory.

Over 1,000 people from 15 villages and various organisations including farmers, contract workers and lorry owners, submitted a petition at the Collectorate on Tuesday, demanding the re-opening of the Sterlite plant.

People in Tuticorin, where the plant is situated, have been holding divided opinions regarding the operation of the plant.

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A group of petitioners from A. Kumareddiyarpuram, South Veerapandiapuram, Pandarampatti, Meelavittan, Kayaloorani, Korampallam, Sorispuram, Ayyanadaippu, Mukkani, Authoor, Kurumbur, Udangudi, Mattakkadai, Postal and Telegraph Colony and State Bank Colony, came forward on Tuesday, demanding the re-opening of the plant. Whereas a day before, the members of the anti-Sterlite movement, submitted a petition seeking to permanently close down the plant.

Those against the Sterlite Copper submitted the petition during the weekly grievance redressal meet on Monday seeking legally valid steps for the permanent closure of the unit. They said the Tamil Nadu Cabinet should pass a resolution for the permanent closure of Sterlite Copper.

Whereas the petitioners protesting for re-opening maintained that, “thousands of Sterlite Copper workers and contract labourers have been rendered jobless after the closure of the unit, which has consequently crippled hundreds of ancillary units functioning in and around Thoothukudi. Moreover, hundreds of lorries, which were hired for transporting copper concentrate ore, finished products, acids and other works, remain idle and lorry workers and their families are starving. Hence steps should be taken for the immediate reopening of Sterlite Copper.”

The fresh protests have been triggered by the NGT report last week which had given the green signal for re-opening of the plant. The NGT had said that closure of the plant was not justified, saying that “the impugned orders cannot be sustained as it is against the principles of natural justice.” The NGT order has said that Sterlite factory should function as per the recommendations and suggestions given by the expert committee appointed by the tribunal and those would be binding upon the company.

When the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, was permanently closed by the Tamil Nadu government in May 2018, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sterlite – P. Ramnath had claimed that not only 30000 direct or indirect jobs would get affected by the closure but also small and medium industries amounting to 800, which depend on the organisation for smelter would face supply disruption.

Earlier too there were reports that soon after the orders of closure Tuticorin villagers had made appeals to reopen the plant who had praised it for supporting their livelihood, and for even helping them to meet their educational and healthcare needs.

The decision to close the plant permanently following the violent protests which resulted in the death of 13 protesters, was mainly prompted by the proposed expansion of the plant.

These protest supposedly prompted by environmental concerns had seen a lot of political slugfest with Congress President Rahul Gandhi falsely accusing PM Modi and the RSS for the protesters’ deaths. Such a moral high ground by the Congress party was considered ironic, considering it was the Congress-led UPA government between 2007 and 2012 which had backed the proposed expansion.

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