A costly closure

It cost thirteen precious human lives to force the Tamil Nadu Government to order the permanent closure of the Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin. It has now transpired that a ‘Deputy Tehsildar’ ‘gave the green signal to the police’ to open fire. Whether a ‘deputy tehsildar’ is legally authorized to give such an order is a matter that needs to be found out. Usually it is a magistrate who gives such an order after duly warning the people to disperse. Whether any such warning was given to the crowd is not known. For dispersing an unruly mob, shooting must be under the waist. In the Sterlite case the police were found aiming at and shooting people in the head. Whether this constitutes a criminal office and whether the policemen concerned are liable for criminal prosecution are to be ascertained.
The Sterlite plant has been ordered to be closed because it has been established beyond doubt that it was causing atmospheric pollution, causing sickness among the people living near the plant and causing death. The question that naturally arises is, why in the first place, the plant was given clearance for pollution and which authority cleared it – the Central or the State Pollution Control Board – and on what basis. All these questions have to be gone into to ensure that in future no such plants are given licence to operate. The political connection of the owners of the Sterlite copper factory, the London-based Vedanta group, also needs to be gone into because without powerful political backing, such a toxic plant would never have been allowed to operate, particularly after the Maharashtra Government refused permission to it.
The likely political connections of the owners of Sterlite assume importance because it is said that the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) of Nagpur was at first highly critical of the environmental norms flouted by the Sterlite plant. That was way back in 1998. But a few months later, in 1999, the same NEERI gave the clearance. The veracity or otherwise of this claim needs to be ascertained. It is a public secret that the Union Environment Ministry, the Pollution Control Boards and other allied organizations act under political pressure or the palms of the concerned officials are well greased. The Sterlite tragedy has raised a whole lot of questions. These have to be gone into and answered satisfactorily so that such a tragedy does not happen ever again.

Tuesday, 29 May, 2018