Samarendra Das with Fatima Babu at the anti-Sterlite consultative meeting held recently at Hotel DSF in Thoothukudi. (Photo: DC)
Thoothukudi: The anti-Sterlite stir here appears to gain inspiration from a ‘motivated foreign hand’ even as all the political parties and also the major traders’ outfit, Tamilnadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peramaippu, (Federation of Tamil Nadu traders’ associations) have stayed clear of it and even welcomed the company’s proposal to double the capacity of its copper smelting plant to eight lakh tonnes per annum as it would lead to regional industrial growth, all-round economic development and increased employment opportunities.
Some local ‘environment’ activists such as Fatima Babu and M. Krishnamoorthy are leading the agitation against Sterlite’s expansion project. Their call for bandh on March 24 has got the support of a section of traders belonging to the Thoothukudi city central traders’ association, whose general secretary T. Baskar said the members would down their shutters on March 24 and participate in the anti-Sterlite rally in the town. Opposing the agitation, the Tamilnadu Vanigar Sangagalin Peramaippu led by Vikiramaraja argued that the traders should not go against any industry.
Anti-Sterlite Krishnamoorthy, who had obtained a court direction to the district police to permit the March 24 rally, told DC it was regrettable that none of the political parties came forward to support the agitation against the company.
"Our talks with the lorry owners’ association to join our strike (March 24) did not entirely work due to their internal differences. The association has since asked its members to decide for themselves whether to support our stir or not", he said.
D. Dhanavel, head, safety-health-environment, at Sterlite Copper, a unit of Vedanta Group, rubbished the agitation as "false propaganda" and said the smelting plant maintained "very low" emission level of just 0.3 kg per tonne of copper smelting, whereas the pollution control board permitted 1.0 kg per tonne.
On the charge that the plant released excessive sulphur dioxide into atmosphere, he said, "releasing sulphur dioxide wastefully into atmosphere will actually be a loss to us as we now control its emission so as to produce sulphuric acid for commercial purpose".
The Sterlite executive also pointed out the company "is one of the very few industries in India to win the Sword of Honour award from the British safety council".
Meanwhile, police sources here confirmed the Sterlite allegation that ‘external forces’ were instigating the agitation against the company and its expansion project. One Samarendra Dhas representing ‘Foil Vedanta Group’ of London had allegedly visited Thoothukudi recently for a ‘secret meeting’ with the anti-Sterlite leaders, where he reportedly promised help to keep alive the fire against the copper smelting plant. "One man of Orissa did come to participate in our consultative meeting. He promised us all help. I do not remember his name", Krishnamurthy said. He declined answer when asked why his group, usually hyper active with the media, kept Dhas’ trip a secret.
Hindu Makkal Katch chief Arjun Sampath has cited Dhas’ visit to cry foul about ‘foreign hand’trying to foil industrial development in the region.
"This kind of external instigation is working against all kinds of industrial development, whether it is Kudankulam nuclear power project or international container transhipment terminal or Thoothukudi outer harbour development or against the ONGC project at Kathiramangalam", he said during his media meet here a couple of days back, while demanding "serious probe into suspicion if these agitations have some devious pattern". Interestingly, the anti-Sterlite campaigners have also triggered a virulent social media campaign telling the public to participate in their March 24 stir or else face branding as being anti-Tamil and lacking in self-esteem.