Thoothukudi Sterlite Copper plant contract workers and a group of stakeholders, including people who live near the unit, have appealed to the Tamil Nadu government to reopen the plant that was shut on 28 May. UK-based Vedanta Resources Group’s Sterlite plant, which made up to 40 per cent of the country’s refined copper production, was ordered shut by the State Government after protests demanding its closure resulted in violence leading to death of 13 persons in police firing.
On 3 October, addressing a press conference in Chennai, S Thiyagarajan, president, Thoothukudi Contractors Association, said: “There are about 10,000 contract workers directly dependent on the plant. Another 10,000 persons are indirectly benefited. Now, all of them are unemployed and are in dire straits”, as reported by DT (Daily Thanthi) Next.
He demanded a fair inquiry, saying, “If they find evidence of the unit’s operations affecting public health, the authorities can close it. However, this is a conspiracy by a group with vested interests.”
Dr Rajesh from Saveetha Medical College dismissed reports of people in Kumarareddypalayam being affected by cancer. He said: “The State cancer registry doesn’t show any alarming rise in the number of cases. Chennai, Kanchipuram and Coimbatore are among the top-most affected districts.”
Dr Prem of Thoothukudi argued that steps were being taken to ensure a toxin-free environment by presenting evidence of medical facilities provided for the employees and residents.
Separate petitions have been filed with the District Collector’s office and the Chief Minister’s Office, according to the stakeholders, for reopening of the plant. Some of the locals too were present at the press conference.
Protests began in February in Thoothukudi demanding that the copper plant be shut for allegedly causing pollution and affecting the environment. Vedanta has moved the National Green Tribunal against the Tamil Nadu Government’s order to shut the plant. The tribunal has sent a three-member committee to go into the whole issue.
Last week, one of the affected workers told the media that those who were behind the protests have been funded by vested interests. Downstream industries, too, have been demanding the reopening of the copper plant saying they are finding it hard or having to pay more to get raw materials.
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