Tuticorin or Thoothukudi:
Tuticorin or Thoothukudi is called as “Sea Gateway of Tamil Nadu. Also known as “Pearl City” due to the pearl fishing carried out in the town. Port city that has found place through out history of Tamil Nadu, was in news yesterday for the violence and killing of 11 people during the protest. Like all port cities, most of the people here were initially employed in port, salt industries and fishery allied industry. Later, in 90s, Sterlite industries launched here and provided further employment to locals. But soon, the same locals started revolting against the same plant and demanding for its closure.
Sterlite Industries is a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources (listed in London Stock exchange), a metals and mining conglomerate. It can produce 400,000 tonnes of copper cathode a year. It has a share of about 35 per cent in the India’s primary copper market and exports mainly to Gulf and Asian countries. India’s copper consumption has been increasing consistently over the last few years and Sterlite plans to increase production from 4 lakh tonnes to 8 lakh tonnes soon. However, the latest protests and events seem to be a blow to the Sterlite’s plans. The company may even be ordered for closure, as per reports.
The protests against this Sterlite Copper plant has history of 2 decades. Sporadic protests have been going on since 1999.
The has been long-opposed by the local residents for polluting their environment as well as causing a range of health problems and for violating environmental norms. Protesters say the plant is polluting ground water in the area and threatens the fishing industry that is giving more employment to locals.
Enter the courts:
In 2010, the Madras High Court had ordered a shut down of the plant on the grounds of violation of environmental norms. However, the Supreme Court, in April, 2013 struck down the Madras high court’s order and instead fined Sterlite Rs 100 crore and the plant soon reopened.
But Sterlite again made headlines in 2013 when a gas leak took place leading to death of one person and inflicting injuries on several others. The then chief minister late J Jayalalithaa, ordered closure of the plant.
However, The company moved the National Green Tribunal and got the plant re-opened.
In March and April 2018, there were renewed mass-protests against the company. Reason- Plant planned of setting up a second smelting complex. The protest turned violent on 22 May 2018 as 11 people were killed and several others injured, following a police shooting.
What turned the protest violence:
Officials of the Revenue department and the police came up with different versions. Revenue officials felt the Intelligence Wing of the police had failed to foresee a protest’s magnitude. But police alleged that the involvement of members of a few “radical groups” in the agitation motivated the protesters to indulge in violence. It seems some of these extremist groups visited the hamlet couple of weeks back and these outsiders have provoked locals with fiery speeches.
Impact on India -Copper prices shoot up :
Closure of the plant has always led to a spike in copper prices. The plant has the capacity to produce 4 lakh tonnes of copper per year i.e share of about 35 per cent in the India’s primary copper market. It even exports copper to Gulf and Asian countries. With closer of the plant, India may become net importer of Copper. Currently it is net exporter.