India is a nation where foreign-funded NGOs, political parties, and so-called civil society work in tandem to halt the progress, sometimes they do irreversible damage to our economy and business prospects as well.
We have seen several infrastructure projects, nuclear plants, dams, and even factories that have been stalled or completely shut down under the pressure of these elements, which work on the behest of foreign powers to destabilize India’s growth.
One such story is about the Sterlite copper smelting plant in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. This was among the biggest copper plants in India, and it was forced to shut down after an aggressive protest against it. It was said that few NGOs spread “myths and wrong information” about it, incited locals against it, that protest lead to the death of 13 protestors in police firing.
What is Sterlite?
Sterlite was set up by UK-based Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal in 1996, much before he launched Vedanta Resources. It was started as a copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.
It was the largest copper smelter plant in India, and this has been shut down by the Tamil Nadu government on 28 May 2018 after a series of aggressive and violent protests from locals.
Why there was a violent protest against Sterlite?
The primary reason for the protest was the alleged rise in pollution. The locals were demanding an immediate closure of the plant as there was a rise in health-related problems among people residing in the vicinity of the plant. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board submitted an affidavit, that mentioned that there was a gradual rise in respiratory diseases among the people and communities surrounding the unit.
The affidavit also mentioned that due to rusty-red water flowing from plant taps, they observed a suspicious increase in the iron content in the groundwater. This water may have caused the high incidences of menstrual disorders, like dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia in local women.
It was also stated that arsenic-laced wastewater from the Sterlite plant was reportedly flooding Meelavittan, Kaluthaikuttan, and Silverpuram tanks. The TNPCB also stated that the Sterlite plant was disposing of thousands of tonnes of dangerous and hazardous waste without any authorization from the state government or the environment ministry.
Several NGOs provoked the local people, twisted the facts and misled the people, and create a situation of urgency, which lead to this violent protest against the Sterlite plant.
What is Vedanta Sterlite saying?
Vedanta Group always strongly denied the charges of pollution. As per them, Sterlite was using zero discharge systems, energy-efficient systems, stringent emission monitoring mechanisms, and systematic utilization of waste for sustainable applications.
Sterlite has been engaged in a notorious tussle with the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over allegations of causing environmental damage. The TNPCB did turn down Sterlite’s application to renew its ‘Consent to Operate’ by claiming that it is continued to generate and dispose of hazardous waste without any valid authorization.
However, Sterlite management and senior counsel PS Raman appearing for Sterlite maintain that TNPCB was acting on the basis of some unverified newspaper reports and public outcry, rather than validating the facts based on scientific material available.
The fact of the matter is that there is not a single document available, that can suggest that Sterlite has caused ambient water and air pollution. Sterlite has a strong record of achieving zero liquid discharge and there is no substantial artifact to prove that health problems are faced by the local communities were due to Sterlite, considering there are multiple red category industries in the same industrial cluster.
Adverse Impact of Sterlite plant closure
Well, the closure of the Sterlite plan proved costly for the Indian Economy. This plant is used to produce various products like sulphuric acid, copper, slag, phosphoric acid, and gypsum. There were several small units and ancillaries in the nearby area, which used to utilize these products for their own business.
Since the closure of this plant, hundreds of such small units have had to close their operations or move to some other place. Whereas the larger companies had to resort to imports and their margins have been hit massively.
If you talk about sulphuric acid, the prices have gone up by 3 to 4 times because of the shutdown, as the Sterlite plant was the major supplier of the product in this region. For example, the Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC) Ltd, was the major customer for sulphuric acid produced from this plant, but now they import it from other nations, which has had a ripple effect and is detrimental for its growth in the long run.
The total demand for copper in India is 650,000 tonnes per annum. Although the production capacity is 10 lakh tonnes per annum, and rest of the copper was exported. As the Sterlite plant is closed, India’s copper production capacity has been dented massively and the situation has turned upside-down.
Now India is highly dependent on copper import from other nations, primarily from China. This will have a negative effect on the Make in India initiative and will push up the prices of copper in an upward trend. Moreover, copper growth is linked to GDP growth. Since we are looking at approx 8% GDP, copper growth is expected to be 10% per anum. So the demand for copper, too, is going to increase in India, which is going to enhance our import bill further.
Apart from that, the closure of the Sterlite plant has created a severe job problem in this area, as thousands of people were directly or indirectly employed by this plant, and once the plant was closed they had no work to do.
Was Sterlite really spreading pollution?
Well, the answer is NO. In 2013 too, it was an allegation, Sterlite approached NGT (National Green Tribunal), and they appointed an independent committee comprising Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), and 2 IIT professors.
This committee paid 3 visits to the plant, spent several days, and conducted an extensive study of all the machines, processes, and other resources. This committee measured all the pollution and other emission parameters, and upon receiving satisfactory results, they allowed the plant to continue its operations.
The NGT had said that it was not a polluting plant then and won’t be one in the future. It was a strong statement based on facts, that proved the innocence of the Sterlite.
Even for 5 years before the closure of the plant, there was not a single complaint made by nearby villagers, no show-cause notice from the pollution control board was ever received. You won’t believe, the pollution situation was worsened during the annual shutdown of the plant.
There was literally nothing wrong in terms of the several environmental parameters, and the company had all pollution control records by the pollution control board itself stating that all parameters are within permissible limits.
Evil NGO’s spread propaganda on the behest of foreign powers
There were several NGOs, who hijacked the whole thing and put out social media messages inciting the public. A whole lot of myths were put out to demean the Sterlite plant and locals were provoked to stage violent protests.
These NGOs spread the following Myths:
Myth 1 – Tuticorin is the cancer capital of Tamil Nadu and every death that happens in the district is linked to Sterlite Copper.
This is absolutely wrong. There are statistics to prove that this was absolutely wrong. Out of 32 districts of Tamil Nadu, Tuticorin ranked 14th in male cancer cases and 25th in female cancer. A complete misconception and misinformation were propagated. NGOs hyped up the matter to stoke public sentiments.
Myth 2 – Plant never followed any Pollution Control and Sulphur Discharge protocols and standards
This was another lie, as the Sterlite plant was following all the stringent pollution control standards, and contrary to the propaganda, there was “zero discharge” of sulphur. If we compare, a 4,000 MW power plant running on coal releases a larger quantity of harmful sulphur dioxide directly into the atmosphere.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board data shows there hasn’t been any change of sulphur dioxide level in Tuticorin after our plant was shut down, which shows the negligible contribution of the Sterlite plant in sulphur discharge in that area. Further, So2 was not discharged from the plant, it was used as a raw material to manufacture ‘sulphuric acid.
Myth 3 – Sterlite Plant was causing massive Air Pollution
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) carried out a source apportionment study in February 2019, after the Sterlite plant’s closure, through the Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research, Anna University, Chennai.
The study revealed that the value for the pollutant PM10 (particulate matter) was exceeding the standard limits of the annual average. It clearly shows that road dust and vehicular emissions were the major factors contributing to the dust in Thoothukudi.
Well, what happened has happened, but now the Tamil Nadu and Central governments must review the decision of closure of this plant. It is quite clear that we have paid a heavy price of nefarious propaganda, which of course was expected to provide benefits to the foreign powers.
The Government must frame some laws of guidelines to keep a track of such NGOs, which are formed to stall the growth of our nation in the name of environmental protection, human rights, or some other excuses.