Operated unit in transparent, sustainable way: Vedanta on Sterlite Copper plant closure

DMK working president M.K. Stalin with other party leaders staging a protest outside Tamil Nadu secretariat | Twitter  ANI

The struggle with opponents took a particularly ugly turn on Tuesday when police opened fire on protesters seeking to shut down Vedanta's copper smelter in the southern Indian port city of Thoothukudi, killing 10.

Sterlite Copper, a business unit of Vedanta, a United Kingdom-based multinational mining and metals conglomerate, set up the copper smelting plant in 1996.

Resident have been demanding the closure of the plant, said O. Panneerselvam, the deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

The plant, about 600 kilometres (375 miles) south of Tamil Nadu's state capital Chennai, is now closed as Vedanta's Sterlite Copper subsidiary seeks a new licence so it can be expanded.

Meanwhile, the protests which have been on for almost 100 days, took a turn for the worse when protestors began ransacking and putting vehicles and public property on fire.

The DMK and other opposition parties have announced a dawn-to-dusk bandh across the state to protest against the police action in Thoothukudi.

According to the state government, 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

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The Madras high court on Wednesday, however, ordered a stay on the expansion and directed that a public hearing be held.

The police action had received widespread condemnation from Opposition parties as well as global human rights bodies.

The company on Monday called the closure of the plant it has operated for over 22 years an "unfortunate development".

An unknown number of protesters were injured in the skirmishes, he said.

The protests have intensified after Vedanta, owned by an Indian billionaire but with its head office in London, sought to expand the plant.

The order was given on a PIL filed by R Fatima of Thoothukudi against Sterlite's application for renewal of environmental clearance for the second plant, which when completed, would double its annual copper-refining capacity to 800,000 tonnes. Palaniswami added that families of the victims would be offered one million rupees ($14,700) in compensation. The company has appealed to government and authorities to ensure safety of our employees, facilities, and surrounding communities.

Tamil Nadu is one of India's most industrialised and prosperous states and similar protests over environmental concerns have turned deadly in the past. The protesters in thousands, demanding closure of the plant, said the pollution by the unit was leading to severe health problems for the local residents and depletion of the water table. In 2013, the Supreme Court curiously found the company guilty of misrepresentation, unlicensed operation and polluting the environment, but allowed the company to operate after paying a small fine as it felt India needed the copper.

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