Sterlite’s Thoothukudi Plant: It Is Time To Call The Bluff, Of NGOs Or Management

by R Jagannathan - May 28, 2018 11:41 AM +05:30 IST
Sterlite’s Thoothukudi Plant: It Is Time To Call The Bluff, Of NGOs  Or ManagementThe Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. (LiveMint)
Snapshot
  • What is clear is that someone is bluffing: either the company is not coming clean on its plant’s real polluting potential, or the activists have some other agenda in opposing the plant.

The anti-Sterlite protests in Tuticorin (or Thoothukudi), in which 13 protesters, including some very violent ones, were killed in police firing, can be resolved very easily if the activists are willing to take up a challenge thrown up by the chairman of Vedanta Resources, Anil Agarwal. He has offered to make any changes, accept any decision, based on an independent expert review of his plant’s pollution status.

In an interview to The Economic Times, Agarwal has made five claims, each one of them verifiable and falsifiable. If he is proved wrong on any one point, the activists protesting against Sterlite’s copper smelter’s proposed operations, can claim victory and/or malafide intent. If not, they should admit that their accusations against Sterlite were mistaken.

The key claims made by Agarwal are the following:

1) “We are stricter than anybody else in the world (on pollution).” If the activists can show at least one plant in the world as having better environmental practices, Agarwal will have egg on his face, and have to meet those standards.

2) “We have 25 (of the) world’s best experts who look at the complete environmental aspects of the company.” This list of 25 (or thereabouts) experts can be named and verified on their expertise.

3) “I am ready to have an independent agency to look at it. I will completely abide by the law of the land. I will come forward if something is found amiss because I am very confident that we have zero discharge (from the plant). If some independent agency comes in to verify, they are most welcome.” Again, this offer is worth taking up. Why don’t the activists ask for the insertion of their own technical expert in the independent panel and accept its decision?

4) “Sterlite Copper is among the best smelters in the world with world class environmental practices. We follow zero harm, zero discharge and zero waste policy across units.” Again, a verifiable claim. If any discharge is discovered, severe penalties and high costs for greater environmental safeguards can be imposed.

5) “Even before the protests started, we had the practice to invite people from various walks of life to visit our factory and witness first-hand the best practices; on the same lines, we had even extended the invitation to several activists and leaders but none of them visited. We are open to meeting and clarifying the doubts of the people of Tuticorin about any aspect of the company’s operations.” Isn’t this an entirely reasonable offer? What is the basis for not accepting it?

Agarwal also claims that he spent Rs 500 crore to improve pollution controls, and that both the environment and groundwater quality of the area has improved over the last decade.

What is clear is that someone is bluffing, either wholly or partly: either the company is not coming clean on its plant’s real polluting potential, or the activists have some other agenda in opposing the plant.

In any event, what is stopping the government from creating a permanent pollution monitoring panel to offer regular reports on pollution to ensure that Sterlite lives up to its promises?

Isn’t it time to call the bluff of one party or the other?

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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