Not many court verdicts bring cheer to a state. So, if the Madras high court telling the Vedanta group that it cannot reopen its Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi evoked merriment in various spheres, including politics, there is a history.
Right from its inception, the mega smelter project has been embroiled in legal tangles, besides earning public ire.
Despite a well-oiled PR machinery whirring continuously, the company could not endear itself to the local people, who had been opposing it. Besides, the environmentalists were also at its jugular.
The unprovoked, calculated police firing at peaceful protestors on May 22, 2018, that left 13 innocent persons dead, however, came as the last straw in changing the public perception all over the state. Sterlite Copper became a symbol of state tyranny for the people, who had earlier seen it as a typical “environment versus development” row.
For, the company’s closure in 2010 following a high court order was due to alleged violation of pollution control norms and the 100-day public protest that culminated with the police firing, too, was started against alleged degradation of the environment.
But the vignettes of the 2018 police action, beamed live on television, impelled the people to see Sterlite Copper as evil, all its propaganda on making India self-reliant on copper or the plethora of livelihood opportunities it offered for locals notwithstanding.
That was why the local people, who had anyway vowed not to let the company open again, welcomed Tuesday’s verdict as justice rendered to the sacrifices of the 13 martyrs.
On the flipside, Sterlite Copper’s history has made many fear its emergence like a phoenix as in 2013 when the Supreme Court allowed its reopening with a fine of Rs 100 crore under the ‘polluter pays’ doctrine.
That the EIA 2020 seeks to enforce such doctrines and the BJP was the only political party that did not welcome the high court verdict only adds to their concerns....