The Tuticorin firings

The AIDMK Government of Tamil Nadu should be held squarely responsible for the police firing on people protesting before the Sterlite Copper Plant at Tuticorin in which at least ten people have been killed and many more critically injured. Video clippings showed the police taking aim and shooting at people’s heads which is against the law which allows the police to fire below the waist when firing becomes unavoidable to disperse unruly crowds. In the present case the protesters did not even turn violent before the police opened fire. Protest against the operation of the plant was growing for quite some time past. The objection of the local people was that the plant was polluting the air, making breathing difficult and many were falling sick.
Matters came to a head when the Sterlite group announced its decision to expand the production capacity of the plant which would have taken it to eight lakh tonnes per year and made it one of the world’s largest copper plants. The protest started snow-balling in intensity. The protesters demanded not only that the expansion be stopped but the entire plant be closed down.  Now the Madurai Bench of the Tamil Nadu High Court had stopped the construction of the new copper smelter pending a public hearing of the matter. This strengthens the public perception that the plant was indeed responsible for causing extensive air pollution.
Public agitation against industries that either pollute or necessitate large-scale eviction of people from their lands is nothing new. In Odisha the Korean company Posco wanted to build a huge steel plant with the support of the State Government by evicting tribals from their traditionally held land. In the face of sustained public resistance, the Korean company had to abandon the project and move away. In West Bengal, the Tatas were forced to abandon the small car project at Singur in the face of people’s resistance. In the case of the Sterlite copper project it is not known whether the Central or State Pollution Control Board went into every aspect of the nature and extent of pollution and whether, after they obtained the permission, the company observed the terms and conditions on which clearance was given to it. There is also the question whether an industrial project, either in the public or in the private sector, can be given clearance to if there is strong public opinion against it for its possible negative impact on environment. The unfortunate death of ten persons has brought this question to the forefront again.

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018