A green body today strongly condemned the killing of innocent anti-Sterlite plant agitators in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin town and said the present situation reflects "complete failure" of environmental governance in the country.
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said people's interests should be looked into over the company's business interests as it recommended permanent closure of the plant along with a plan to decontaminate the site and the surrounding environment
At the same time, rights group Amnesty International India said the excessive use of force by the Tamil Nadu police is a "damning indictment" of the state government's determination to crush the protests.
A man was killed in fresh police firing on anti-Sterlite plant agitators today, while some others were injured in clashes with security personnel in Tuticorin town, a day after 10 people lost their lives in police action.
Locals have been agitating for over 100 days now demanding closure of the Vedanta group's Sterlite copper plant over pollution concerns.
CSE said the residents of the area were protesting against the proposed doubling of capacity of the plant and citing long-festering pollution concerns, they were demanding permanent closure of the plant.
"We condemn the killing of innocent protestors. Considering the history of this plant, the residents were justified in protesting against the expansion. This plant has polluted the environment and flouted standards with impunity for the past 20 years", said Sunita Narain, Director General, CSE.
"While taking Environment Clearance (EC), the company had flouted norms by misrepresenting facts and giving a faulty Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.
"Firstly, it said that the plant is not located within 25 km of ecologically sensitive area, which was found to be wrong as the plant is located near Munnar Marine National Park. In addition, the company submitted a faulty rapid EIA report without conducting any public hearing," CSE said.
CSE said the plant has been found on numerous occasions to "flout" the pollution norms with impunity and foregone permit requirements by pollution regulators, as observed by the courts since its commencement in 1997.
"In fact, a Supreme Court (SC) monitoring committee in 2004 found the plant had not provided adequate infrastructure and facilities for management of highly toxic arsenic-containing wastes. The plant was also found to be emitting sulphur dioxide far in excess of the permissible standards.
"In 2010, the Madras High Court closed the plant because it was polluting the environment and had flouted norms while setting up the plant. In 2013, the Supreme Court imposed a penalty of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment," CSE said.
The body went on to add that in March 2013, a toxic gas leak from the plant made several hundreds of residents living in its vicinity sick.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered a closure of the smelting unit on March 29, but the Principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) gave a clean chit to Sterlite and revoked the closure order based on technicalities, it added.
"With such a poor track record on environment for nearly two decades, a plant like Sterlite's copper unit, would not have been allowed to operate anywhere in the world.
"However, not only does it continue to operate in Tuticorin, but is also planning to double its capacity. This reflects the abject failure of the environmental governance in the country. It shows how weak and toothless are our pollution regulators" said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, CSE.
Bhushan said,"Considering its history of irresponsibility and its location in an ecologically sensitive area, we strongly recommend that this plant should be closed down and an environmental de-contamination plan should be implemented to clean up the contamination caused by the plant's operation."
"This work can immediately start with Rs 100 crore that the SC had imposed five years back." he added.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International India said that excessive use of force by the Tamil Nadu police on the anti-sterlite protestors is a "damning indictment" of the state government's determination to crush the protests and cannot be justified.
"Despite knowing there would be a massive protest on Tuesday, the state police did little to implement crowd control measures that would have avoided the need to resort to force. This could have prevented the death of protestors.
"The Tamil Nadu police have many questions to answer. Those responsible for deaths and injuries caused to protestors must be brought to justice," said Abhirr VP, cautioning the security personnel against the "excessive use of force" to control crowd.
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