Is it curtains for the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi that has been put up for sale by the multi-national company Vedanta Ltd or will the move usher in a new beginning for the industrial growth of southern Tamil Nadu? Right from the time of its inception in 1997, the copper smelter facility has repeatedly been bogged down by controversies. It always managed to come out of them triumphantly and when it was shut down by the state government in 2018, it was reportedly manufacturing copper that fed 40 per cent of the country’s needs.
A state-of-art establishment employing 5,000 people and providing indirect jobs to another 25,000, accounting for 12 per cent of the revenue of the Thoothukudi port, helping the local community through a slew of CSR projects and even taking up environment-friendly initiatives should have been a dream company, perceived as a means of developing the economy of the region that has many educational institutions but few industries to engage those passing out.
Many people from the region, including several women, worked in the company that gave many small business contracts to the locals. Still if public resentment triggers an uprising that police felt could be quelled only by opening fire on the protesters, who should be blamed for it? In fact, the company could not shirk the blame for the death of the 13 persons in police firing in May 2018.
Earlier, too, it had been shut down for short periods for violating environmental norms. Before it set up shop in Thoothukudi, three state governments, Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra, had refused permission to the plant. In short, it had been a jinxed plant right from the start, mainly because the company management had erred too many times on several counts.
Hope the new management changes the culture, reaches out to the people and heralds a new beginning for the facility....