A copious number of copper smelting plants owned by Vedanta were started in the outskirts of the Thoothukudi district and many other villages. After a decade of increased cancer rates, breathing issues and polluted groundwater the people of Tuticorin have been coming forward to show their frustrations and demand a change.
Western media outlets have failed to report on this recurring issue despite the fact that there is an increased number of deaths and illness’ in the villages of India, thousands of people within the districts of India are being affected by these plants. Many people have failed to understand the intensity of the issue, it is difficult to know or pinpoint which factory, in particular, has caused this outbreak. There has been no official proof that these cases are due to Sterlite.
According to Senior correspondent journalist Smitha from ‘The Quint’ who I recently interviewed on this issue. She states that “there are several factories and power plants who could also be responsible. But villagers and the people of Tuticorin have been believing that Sterlite is to be blamed, these accusations are based on the visible harmful effects they have seen near the factory. The main contention here is, in spite of so many complaints, why has the state government not taken any initiative to conduct a health survey to find the cause.”
Whilst journalists like Smitha continue searching for the truth and helping those that are affected the government has failed to do even the most basic of surveys to find the cause of this perpetual cycle of death and illness. Even with the continuous protests and marches, there was no immediate action.
The most recent march was on March 24th 2018 where thousands of frantic and angry citizens gathered with their loved ones on the streets of this south Indian coastal town in a bid to close down the Vedanta Sterlite’s copper operations. An article by Nityanand Jayaraman explains the long history of gas leaks, discharging chemicals in water bodies and scrutinises the beginning times of ‘Sterlite’ which was 1992.
Smitha explains the process of change
“So, in January, people went to the district Collector to submit a petition asking for the factory to be shut down. Their petition was accepted but they didn’t get any response. So they decided to protest for 100 days. People of all religions and castes would come together from even the outskirts to voice their dissent. The 100th day was supposed to mark their victory as they marched towards the Collectorate to submit a petition asking for the factory to be shut down . But all hell broke loose when the police opened fire in order to control the crowd, but that killed over 14 and injuring at least 250. This only angered them more. Their agitation and wails grew louder that the government was forced to order a shutdown of the factory. “ said Smitha
After a frustrating time of protests and demanding, the factory was at last shut down. It was reported by Smitha that The district Collector and Superintendent of Police were transferred and new officers were appointed in their place. Since they have taken an oath, they have cleaned up all water bodies, installed new water pump systems, ensure water lorries sent at regular intervals.
Although, it was a glory to see the factory shut down this now means an increased process of copper and huge losses. Sterlite being one of the largest producers in the country means that everyone that was once depended on them will suffer and possibly lose out on profit due to the increased prices. It has been argued that if the state government been cautious and ensured the factories worked along the norms specified, people wouldn’t be facing this issue.
Smitha says that it “Shows the lethargic attitude and irresponsibility of the government.”
Vedanta’s response to the closure seems to ignore the recent protests and demands of the community, in an interview with BT economy said: “The closure of Sterlite Copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since we have operated the plant for over 22 years in most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to Tuticorin and the state’s socio-economic development. We will study the order and decide on the future course of action,”