Environment Pollution & Climate Change

Copper for Sterlite ! Coffin for Tuticorin ?

From one civilization to another, the only thing that man has been miserably failing to master, is the practice of setting up a reasonable balance between conservation and development. For different reasons, conservation and development together sound like an oxymoron, many – a – times proving to be incompatible with each other! While conservation of natural resources is indispensable, development of progressive technologies is also inevitable. Without a standstill, this interlinked problem continues to exist at everyplace where developmental activities are sown. But the blue actuality is that the troubles come out in the open when the harsh consequences are directly felt by mankind, like it’s happening with the copper smelter of Sterile Copper in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu.

Sterlite in Tuticorin

Tuticorin district of southern Tamil Nadu, popularly called ‘Pearl City’, ‘Harbour City’ and ‘Industrial City’ has always remained a not – so – much agricultural region due to limited irrigation resources available there. The geographical position of Tuticorin, makes it conducive to host a huge lot of salt pans, such that seventy percent of Tamil Nadu’s salt production and close to thirty percent of India’s salt production is contributed solely by Tuticorin. The convenience of being a port city makes Tuticorin a highly appealing industrial area along with a thriving fishery industry. The SEZ and SIPCOT industrial complexes house several food, chemical and power industries. SPIC, Sterlite, Tuticorin Alkaline Chemicals, DCW, Zirconium Plant, Agsar Paints, Venus Home Appliances, Madura Coats and Mills are a few well – known industries functioning here. Among all these Sterlite Copper has been always a major concern since its inception in nineteen ninety seven.

Sterlite Copper is a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Limited, based in UK with Indian born Anil Agarwal as its Chairman. Sterlite Industries was first granted permission to operate the copper smelter in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra in nineteen ninety two. A year full of protests by the local people made the government to retract its permission for Sterlite in nineteen ninety three. Consequently, the company moved in to Tamil Nadu and acquired permission to operate in Tuticorin.

When it all started

The No Objection Certificate issued by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) consented the project mentioning conditions that the unit must be installed at least twenty five kilometers afar the Gulf of Mannar region as it is an ecologically sensitive area and also to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment. On the very embarkment of the factory, the company is said to have evaded all the stipulated conditions. The factory is within fourteen kilometers of the ecologically sensitive region. Following protests, the TNPCB once again issued a license with conditions in nineteen ninety six, urging the industry to grow a greenbelt of twenty five meters in its surroundings. It is again alleged that this condition was also not completely gratified. The claimed violations of restrictions made the industry look heinous and the objections of the locals made the industry close its operations temporarily for the first time in nineteen ninety eight. Since then, it has been closed temporarily very many times, only to reopen in a few days.

Since then, it has been closed temporarily very many times, only to reopen in a few days.

Wealth Vs Health

The factory is alleged to have outperformed all kinds of pollutions in all known and unknown states of matter. There are media reported cases of deaths and diseases in and around the place. The local residents have often complained of the air quality and frequent gas leaks which causes severe irritation to eyes and health disorders. There are also reports claiming that the groundwater levels are usurped way too much and even the available ground water is highly contaminated with metals like aluminium, arsenic, copper, lead, cadmium and selenium, whose concentrations were found to be nearly two to three times than that of the standard permissible limits. Similar findings were also released by a report of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Also, the fishing community there moans that the industry has contaminated their fishing waters causing a worrisome drop in fish population. In two thousand eight, a report on the health status of people residing around five kilometers from the Sterlite Industries, by Tirunelveli Medical College showed considerable prevalence of lung and respiratory diseases and also menstrual disorders among the female population. The ecological, social and health issues threaded by the industries have always been raised by the pubic and a few times by agencies like the National Green Tribunal, NEERI, TNPCB, etc. But when one bureau voices for the permanent shutdown on the industry, another makes a way for it to stay safe with pleasing reports showing that the factory is innocuous!

High Court Vs Supreme Court

In two thousand ten, the Madras High Court issued orders to shut the factory permanently on environmental grounds, which was nullified by the Supreme Court in two thousand thirteen. The Supreme Court slashed the ruling of HC and slapped a fine of rupees hundred crores on the Sterlite Industries for the environmental damage it caused over the years. Every now and then, the helpless people of Tuticorin have always raised that black flag against the industry. On the flip side, the factory totally dismisses all of the charges against it saying that it has the best safety system and that the propaganda against it is a plotted defamation. To buttress its mettle, Sterlite Copper has even won awards crediting the industry to be energy efficient and water efficient too. The latest that Sterlite Copper has received is the ‘Sword of Honour Award’ conferred by the British Safety Council, which is given to companies that excel in good health and safety practices. Its dissenters would call it an irony, for sure!

Thousands gather for protest ; Credit : The News Minute

Doubling the Dangerous Dracula

Now that these chain of events implicitly display the hostility of protesting people in Tuticorin ever since the start of the factory, the escalating remonstrations in recent times have a new infuriating reason. While the locals are already disappointed with the factory functioning to produce four lakh metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) of copper, Sterlite Copper is said to have newly acquired permission to expand its capacity to eight lakh MTPA and if expanded it will be the largest copper manufacturing facility at a single location in the entire Asian continent! That plainly means doubling the capacity and by that doubling, people foresee a disastrous impending danger.    

Copper sterlite protest tuticorin

Conscience and Concerns

The fact that the Company employs over thousands of locals in its factory and also that the copper it produces suffices about forty five percent of our nation’s need, might be commendable. But still, there is no use in ‘building a bridge by making people lame’. Development mustn’t be attained at the cost of destruction. Individual aspirations should never trample humanity. Every single time that we suffer from such unfortunate issues, we suggest policy changes as a unanimous solution.  The problem here is beyond devising rules. The existing laws have been sidestepped comfortably which wouldn’t be possible without the aid of those responsible to impose and carry out the modus operandi. Every deed begins and ends with the conscience of those involved. Only conscious minds coupled with concerned hearts can prevent Tuticorin from becoming a Bhopal or a Cape Town or even both.


Chandini S Amaan
Chandini S is a Sericulture Graduate fascinated by the Unadulterated, Countrified, Rope – Cot Styled Life. Correct her, if she deserves to be. Teach her, if she needs to be. She is affably waiting to grow at the other end of itsmechandu510@gmail.com