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Grassroots movement against Sterlite copper plant India

Since its inception in 1995, the Tuticorin Sterlite Copper plant was controversial due to its highly polluting nature and was initially rejected in three different Indian states until it was approved by Tamil Nadu.

The plant, Sterlite Copper, is a subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta conglomerate.

Local communities have been mobilizing to close the plant for over 20 years.

Residents of Tuticorin, a port city in the state of Tamil Nadu, have alleged that the copper plant has caused significant environmental damage, including air pollution and groundwater contamination.

Opposition grew when many residents joined forces with environmental associations to form the 'anti - Sterlite movement'.

Despite public outcry, the plant was granted environmental clearance from Tamil Nadu´s pollution board and Environment Ministry.

On May 22, 2018, residents from Tuticorin flooded the streets completing 100 days of protests against Sterlite. The peaceful demonstrations that have lasted for months, turned violent when the police opened fire against protesters. At least 15 people were killed and many were critically injured.
Facing an increased public pressure, state officials ordered the closure of the plant three days later.

On January 2019, India´s Supreme Court ordered the reopening of the copper smelter, regardless of the alleged pollution of groundwater and the threat to the fishing industry.

This grassroots movement mobilized tens of thousands of residents in protest. Nityanand Jayaram, an environmental activist involved with the movement since 2003, stated that there is a constant 'latent anger' against the plant and those who made it possible. Those responsible deny and lie about the environmental damage of its operation, and use government machinery for its own benefit, ignoring consistent incidents including gas leakages and violations of planning regulations.

On 22 May 2020, people in and around Tuticorin observed the 2nd anniversary of police firing on protestors demanding closure of the plant in which 15 people lost their lives and became Martyrs of the anti-sterlite movement. The fight continues as Sterlite Copper is trying to persuade the new government to re-open the plant. Unfortunately, the AIADMK government has signaled to side with the company.

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Credits:

1. United Nations Photo; Field coverage: India; August 1, 1989; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 2. Wikipedia. 3. Wikipedia. 4. Taken from theguardian.com. 5. United Nations Photo; children of Hyderabad; August 16, 2011; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).