Thoothukudi: Hopping into the volatile Sterlite cauldron to the wild cheering of the protesters, Makkal Neethi Maiyam leader Kamal Haasan on Sunday slammed the copper smelting plant here, accusing it of planning expansion without obtaining the mandatory approvals and demanded the total closure of the 22-year-old mega factory itself.
Sterlite quickly denied the charge and advised Kamal to “please make efforts to learn the complete truth before rushing off with public statements that could seriously hurt his own credibility besides damaging Sterlite’s reputation as a clean player”.
Arriving here from Chennai by air, the actor-politician drove to Kumareddiyarpuram village about 15 km away to address the people agitating against Sterlite expansion for the last 49 days. The Sterlite management, he alleged, had taken up the expansion project without obtaining the mandatory official clearances whereas its existing unit was already harming the locals’ health. “Any industry functioning without concern for human life must be closed down”, he said while his audience roared in approval. “Your voice must be heard in Delhi”, Kamal said.
Appearing overawed by the spirited sloganeering led by a little boy who stood beside him amid the crowd under a neem tree in the village, Kamal said he had come before them as a ‘Tamil individual’ and not as a political leader. “The Sterlite management is lying, spreading rumours that money is playing a role in this agitation. But it’s the management that had offered Rs.5 crore each to 120 people piloting this struggle to break it. Why are they not giving this money to the poor affected people instead?”
The actor-politician, however, backtracked on his charges at a news conference he later addressed at the Satya Resort at Thoothukudi, about 15 from the protest village.
Asked to clarify on his charge that Sterlite had no approvals for the expansion project and that the company offered hefty bribes to those leading the agitation, he admitted he had no proof for what he said. “It could be rumour. Both the sides are spreading rumours. The balancing scale is not proper”, he said, implying that Sterlite has been indulging in more of falsehood than the opposite side on the issue.
Responding to Kamal’s serious allegations, Sterlite spokesman M Esakkiappan said it was “unfortunate that an intelligent person as Kamal Haasan could utter such baseless allegations without knowing facts, the real situation”.
The company had thrown open the plant premises to Kamal to “visit and see for himself, learn the true situation about the environment and health concerns, and to gather facts about the official clearances for the expansion project”, said Esakkiappan, head of public relations at the plant, adding, “He did not come, but has chosen to deliver the script written by the vested interests”.
The Sterlite official said the company had begun its expansion works only after obtaining ‘Consent to Establish’ (CTE) as per the Water (prevention & control of pollution) act and the Environment (protection) act 1986. “We have properly obtained the environment clearances from the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment and the site appraisal and approval order”, he said.
Meanwhile, the anti-Sterlite campaigners have succeeded in taking the stir to the neighbouring Pandarampatti village and also got the supporters to hold a rally in Chennai demanding the closure of the copper smelting plant....