Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant Workers, Families Appeal To Tamil Nadu Chief Minister For Resumption Of Operations

Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant Workers, Families Appeal To Tamil Nadu Chief Minister For Resumption Of Operations

by M R Subramani - Aug 14, 2020 02:24 PM +05:30 IST
Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant Workers, Families Appeal To Tamil Nadu Chief Minister For Resumption Of OperationsThe Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. 
  • The closure of Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant has caused immense misery to the employees and their families. They are now seeking intervention of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami to reopen the plant.

Demanding immediate opening of the Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper Plant, over 6,000 petitions were submitted by the plant’s employees and their families to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s special sell yesterday (13 August).

In all, 6,360 petitions were submitted seeking resumption of operations at the copper plant, owned by UK-based Vedanta Resources, in physical as well as digital forms. While the physical petitions were submitted at the collector’s office in Thoothukudi, the electronic petitions were sent by email to the Chief Minister’s special office.

The employees are becoming increasingly concerned over their financial situation since the plant was ordered close by the Tamil Nadu government on 28 May 2018 after protests demanding that the unit be shut, for allegedly causing pollution, turned violent.

In the violence that occurred on 22 May, 13 people died in police firing.

The Madras High Court reserved its judgement on 8 January this year on a petition from Vedanta against the Tamil Nadu government’s closure order.

The High Court took up Vedanta’s petition after the Supreme Court asked the firm to move the High Court in March 2019 while striking down a National Green Tribunal order asking the state government to allow the copper plant to operate.

In their petition to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, the employees pointed out at the role of vested interests in the closure of the copper plant.

They said ever since the plant was closed, the country had become a net importer of copper despite having the capacity to meet domestic demand.

Minister of Mines Prahlad Joshi told Parliament in February this year that India had become a net importer of copper for the first time in the last two decades. He said copper imports more than doubled in 2018-19 fiscal to 92,990 tonnes against 44,245 tonnes the previous year.

The imports resulted in the expenditure of $605.20 million precious foreign exchange and another $684.02 million was spent during the April-September period of 2019-20 financial year.

The closure of the copper plant has benefited Pakistan immensely as its exports of the non-ferrous metal to China increased 400 per cent in terms of value since May 2018.

The employees said that thousands of people including those who got indirect employment from the copper plant had been affected by the closure. The lives of their families had been left in despair, they said.

The Sterlite plant offered direct employment to 4,000 people and indirect employment to 20,000. The closure of the unit since May 2018 has led to a ripple effect on the industrial city’s economy.

Sterlite operations led to the infusion of over Rs 600 crore every year in the Thoothukudi district’s economy. But the closure of the plant has led to the financial situation being affected.

The appeals by the employees come on the heels of similar petitions submitted by local contractors and industrial suppliers associations, self-help groups, and representatives of a group comprising people from all religions in the last couple of months.

In addition, leaders of panchayats from five villages near the copper plant have also sought the resumption of Sterlite’s operations.

In fact, the plea made by one of the leaders who belonged to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which favoured the plant’s closure, led to some anti-Sterlite activists demanding his removal on the grounds that he took up a private company’s case.

The DMK leader, however, justified his representation saying that he chose to go by the wishes of his panchayat’s people.

Petitions to the state government for the resumpiton of the copper plant have increased ever since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic as it has affected even normal life.

In view of the prolonged closure, the employees have suffered wage cuts in October last year and January this year. Vedanta is now contemplating to lay them off.

So far, over 1.75 lakh petitions have been sent to the Chief Minister’s special cell seeking the opening of the copper plant.

In June this year, Vedanta Resources chairman Anil Agarwal wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out to the huge losses the country has been suffering from the closure of the copper plant.

Even if the copper plant were to get permission to resume operations, it will take at least three months to get it on stream as maintenance operations have to be carried out to get the plant in shape.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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