The New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) condemns the dastardly act of the Tamil Nadu government firing upon the people of Thoothukudi who were protesting yesterday, 22 May 2018, demanding the closure of Sterlite’s copper smelting plant. The police fired upon the peaceful protestors and killed 11 person, including women, and injured many more.
The people of Thoothukudi through their organisations of workers, farmers and traders have been on a 100 day long struggle demanding the closure of the Sterlite factory for contamination of soil, air and groundwater that has caused respiratory diseases, chronic fatigue, ENT and even menstrual disorders among the residents of Thoothukudi. The factory’s damage to the local environment has been proven through tests by the Tirunelvali Medical College and National Environmental Engineering Institute. These studies formed the basis of the Supreme Court ruling of 2 April 2013 that held Sterlite Industries guilty of polluting and fined Sterlite Rs. 100 crore. However, the Supreme Court failed to implement the order and the Tamil Nadu government and the Union Government made no effort to regulate Sterlite.
Sterlite’s Thoothukudi plant annually produces over 4 lakh tonnes of copper which amounts to a third of the country’s primary copper production. Despite plans to double capacity, the plant has been non-operational since 27 March 2018 initially for scheduled maintenance. With effect from 1 April 2018 Sterlite’s license to operate has not been renewed.
Sterlite has a deplorable record in complying with environmental laws, health and safety regulations and human rights. Since the plant went into operation in 1996, 17 workers have died on site due to industrial accidents. Over 45 workers died as a result of a chimney collapse at the privatised BALCO aluminium mill in Korba (Madhya Pradesh) in 2009. On several occasions the plant has had to be shut for these accidents and for environmental reasons. Its holding company Vedanta Resources is equally infamous for flouting environmental guidelines on a regular basis and violating human rights as in the case of Niyamgiri Bauxite mines. Vendanta is currently battling a case in British courts for environmental violations of its subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia. It is also worth recalling that Vedanta itself was created as the off shore (London based) front after Sterlite was banned by the Securities and Exchange Board of India from raising funds from Indian financial markets due to price manipulation.
The people have Thoothukudi have struggling against this corporate giant for over two decades. Frustrated with the rampant collusion between the state government and the company, Sterlite, Thoothukudi’s residents marched on Tuesday to the District Collector’s office seeking permanent closure of the plant. Police forces armed with assault rifles were deployed who fired indiscriminately on the peaceful protesters. Injured and suffering casualties, the people of Thoothukudi re-mobilized which was once again met by police violence and more killings.
The Tamil Nadu Government has defended its brutish police force and in effect blamed Thoothukudi’s people for yesterday’s massacre. Announcing compensation for the deceased and injured and a judicial inquiry, the Chief Minister E Palaniswamy has simultaneously charged the protestors for violating section 144 of the CrPC.
The NTUI stands in solidarity with the people of Thoothukudi, in their struggle against corporate interests and colluding state forces, and condemns their violent repression. The NTUI demands:
- The Government of India to order a judicial enquiry into yesterday’s firing and the events leading up to it by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to be completed within three months,
- The Tamil Nadu Government to provide immediate relief to the families of those killed and injured in the firing,
- The police to lodge a case of criminal negligence against the management of the Sterlite and the Government of Tamil Nadu for the failure to address the environmental degradation and its effect on the local population,
- The Tamil Nadu Government to order closure of the factory and ensure that all employees of Sterlite, include contract workers, are compensated fully with potential loss of earnings.