Who gave approvals for Copper Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi?

Protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper’s operations, which began nearly two decades ago, intensified earlier this year after the company announced expansion of its plant, entailing a doubling of the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year. Thirteen people have lost their lives in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi (also called Tuticorin) ever since the protests for the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant turned violent on Tuesday.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi politicised the death of protesters and blamed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

But in a major expose claimed by the Republic TV, it is alleged that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which gave clearance to the Sterlite plant when the Courts had ordered to shut down the plant initially.

The political war over the death has already began, where Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami appeared to defend the Tamil Nadu Police and blamed the violence on “Political parties, NGOs and Anti-Social elements”. Republic TV has claimed to expose Congress and paper trails expose UPA’s approval to the Sterlite plant.

Shouldn’t Rahul Gandhi who blamed RSS and BJP over killing of protesters apologies for politicising their deaths?

As per Republic TV reports, the channel has claimed that it has accessed 6 documents and recorded endorsements, as well as two press releases, make clear that it was the UPA which between the years 2007 and 2012 — spanning two governments — gave its backing to the project despite repeated concerns, once even telling Parliament that there was no need for a public hearing on the matter.

APPROVAL 1 – March 2007
The first approval came on March 30, 2007, when the UPA’s Environment Ministry cleared a proposal for the setting up of a 2×60 MW coal based captive power plant to meet the power requirement of the unit.

APPROVAL 2 – August 2007
The second approval followed just a few months later on August 9, 2007, when the Environment Ministry gave its clearance to an expansion (de-bottlenecking) proposal for the Copper Smelter, writing ‘MoEF accords environmental clearance.’

APPROVAL 3 – January 2009
The third approval came about 1.5 years later on January 1, 2009, when the Ministry gave a fresh Environment clearances to Sterlite for an expansion.

APPROVAL 4 – March 2010
The fourth backing came just a little over a year later on March 10, 2010, when Jairam Ramesh, then MoS in the Environment Ministry, said in response to a question on Pollution in Tuticorin’ in the Lok Sabha that ‘No serious charge has been levelled against Sterlite’.

APPROVAL 5 – August 2010
The fifth backing came on August 11, 2010, when Jairam Ramesh in response to a query in the Lok Sabha asking “whether the Government gave environment clearance to the Sterlite Industries to double its capacity without undertaking any public hearing as is the rule” said that clearance had been given to the unit as per procedure laid out in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.

APPROVAL 6 – July 2012
The sixth backing came almost two years later on July 7, 2012, when the Environment ministry gave its sanction for additional construction at the plant.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy had earlier alleged that P. Chidambaran was the “Paid Director” for the Vedanta and it was UPA who helped in obtaining approvals for the plant.

In an article by Business Standard, claims suggest, “A perusal of Union environment ministry’s and several court records show the NDA government made an interpretation to green regulations in December 2014, which helped particularly plants such as that of Vedanta’s at Thoothukudi to be built without consulting people of the project-affected area.”

The article further suggests, “In 2016 the National Green Tribunal found, the December orders of the NDA government, which favoured Vedanta, to be illegal. It had to go to the point of threatening bailable orders against the environment ministry officials in the case to divulge information on the matter. Ministry officials said rescinding the government’s December 2014 orders would adversely impact many projects. Eventually, the NGT quashed the December 2014 orders. On the NGT’s instructions, the ministry had to pass fresh orders clearly stating that projects in industrial parks without environmental clearances needed to conduct public hearings”

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has now ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi with immediate effect and disconnected electricity supply to the unit early on Thursday.