Vedanta offering for sale its Sterlite copper smelting plant here is a 'diversionary and deceptive tactic' and the mining company should surrender its landholding to the government, a noted leader of the anti-Sterlite movement said here on Monday.
The conglomerate must in the first place withdraw its appeal challenging the Madras High Court's refusal to direct re-opening of the copper plant, M Krishnamoorthy of the Anti-Sterlite (Thoothukudi District) People's Federation said.
"This is a diversionary and deceptive tactic and by using it they aim to pull the wool over the people's eyes," he told PTI.
The land where the plant is situated was used for agricultural purposes by the people before it was acquired decades ago by the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT).
Some people were not even properly compensated for the land they gave to the government, he alleged. "Sterlite has no right whatsoever to sell the land."
"Vedanta may sell its machineries and equipment, but the land should revert to the government. The land must be allotted only to agro-based units by the government."
The 'tactic' appeared to be an exercise to facilitate resumption of operation by some other entity and "we will not allow any other firm to resume what Sterlite plant was doing here. We will oppose even if the government intended to take over the plant."
Krishnamoorthy, who had been a key coordinator of the years long struggle to shut down the plant, demanded that the state come forward to set up a memorial to honour the memory of 13 people who were killed in police firing during a protest against the plant in 2018.
"They gave their lives in the fight to protect our environment. Hence, a memorial for them on the present Sterlite campus will be a tribute," he said.
The Anti-Sterlite group leader said that only after the plant's closure, the people have started experiencing a gradual positive outcome on the overall environment in the region. "The gap between the people and the nature is now being gradually bridged. Nothing must be done to disturb that."
A total of 13 people were killed following violence and police firing on May 22, 2018 during a massive protest seeking closure of the Sterlite plant. Subsequently, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered permanent closure of the copper unit.
The Board had in April that year declined to grant its approval to operate the plant as protests by people peaked against the unit, amid environmental concerns. Legal battles ensued and the matter went up to the Supreme Court.
Ever since the plant commenced its operations in 1997, it had faced accusations of causing pollution and it had led to litigations. The 'gas leak' incidents had also heightened the anxiety of the people, who had all along sought its permanent closure.
The Supreme Court had in 2013, levied a fine of Rs 100 crore on Sterlite, a unit of the mining giant Vedanta for violating norms and causing pollution.
In an advertisement, Vedanta, in conjunction with Axis Capital invited an Expression of Interest (EOI) for "sale of the state-of-art smelter and refining complex situated at Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu."
The coastal city's name 'Tuticorin' is the anglicized version of the original Tamil name Thoothukudi.
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