Days after the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper offered to restart production at its two oxygen plants in the now-defunct copper smelter at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, the State government has allowed it to restart its operations for a period of four months. Sterlite Copper had appealed to the government to allow it to produce oxygen to help the nation in need.
The decision was taken following an all-party meet chaired by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at the secretariat in Chennai on Monday. Considering the acute shortage of medical oxygen faced by the nation, the state government decided to reopen the Sterlite copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi for a period of four months to ensure adequate supply.
The representatives of recognized parties such AIADMK, DMK, BJP, PMK, DMDK, Communist parties and officials from the Director General of Police and Health Secretary were a part of the meeting.
The decision to reopen the plant for manufacturing medical oxygen was taken unanimously as informed by Chief Minister Edappadi.
Highlighting the resolutions passed at the meeting, he informed, “The copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi would be allowed to reopen for a period of four months only to manufacture oxygen. Under no circumstance will Vedanta be allowed to open or operate other plants that would be used for copper production. Based on the requirement of oxygen, the period might be extended. The electricity supply to the oxygen plants would be cut by the government after the specified period.”
The order further stated that the oxygen to other states will be sent only after Tamil Nadu’s requirements are met completely.
Other resolutions include:
- Technicians of the copper smelter unit alone would be permitted to enter the area with proper admission cards.
- The government would provide adequate security to the unit.
- A committee under the leadership of the district collector would be set up to monitor the manufacturing activities.
- District SP, officials from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, district environmental officer, local representatives, environmental activists, three people from anti-sterlite organization would be part of the committee.
Speaking to the reporters, Thoothukudi MP and the party’s women’s wing leader Kanimozhi said a resolution has been passed in the meeting to reopen the copper plant temporarily for producing oxygen alone and there should be no electricity supply for the rest of the plant. Power to the plant should be supplied only by the state government, she demanded.
India reported a seven time increase in the requirement of medical oxygen after being hit by the second wave of coronavirus pandemic.
In order to bridge this demand and supply gap, Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper had offered to restart production at its two oxygen plants in the now shut copper smelter at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. Vedanta had said that the plant contains two oxygen plants with a combined production capacity of 1,050 tonnes of oxygen daily.
The company has sent two separate letters to the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in this regard.
Supreme Court’s observation
The Supreme Court on April 22 had termed the Covid-19 situation as a ‘national emergency’ while agreeing to hear Vedanta’s plea to reopen the unit for producing oxygen. The apex court remarked that people are dying due to lack of oxygen and asked the state government why it cannot take over the Sterlite Copper unit for producing oxygen. “We are not interested that Vedanta or A, B or C runs it. We are interested that oxygen should be produced,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde had said.
Hinting at the law-and-order issue, the state resisted reopening of the Sterlite Copper plant on April 23. Dismissing the concern, the top court stated that some states are in dire need of oxygen and the resources should be distributed equally.
As per reports, tension prevailed at the Thoothukudi collector’s office on Friday during a public hearing which led to heated arguments between the pro and anti-Sterlite groups. The police had to intervene to bring the situation under control.