Indian copper plant shuts down after repeated protests: reports

FILE PHOTO: Government officials seal a copper smelter controlled by London-listed Vedanta Resources in Thoothukudi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sudarshan Varadhan/File Photo

You might have heard the names David and Goliath being associated with Tuticorin. The south Indian city also the home to one of India’s oldest Christian Communities has been combating a giant since days. Days after 13 protestors were shot dead by the police, including a teenage girl; the activists won a key victory over one of the world’s largest mining companies. It has been more than two decades, Sterlite; a subsidiary of the London-listed Vedanta Resources has been operating a copper smelter on the outskirt of the city.

In the same time, activists have been arguing the site is fouling Tuticorin’s air and water and has caused unnaturally high cancer rates in the nearby villages. Fatima Babu, a leader in the movement had been touring the affected villages when she got the news that Tamil Nadu chief minister was ordering the plant permanently closed on last Friday.

She told the reporters minutes after she discovered and as people around her wept and cheered when she said that until last week she never thought it could happen so easily. Only after the loss of lives did she think things could take a turn. The martyrs have done it. Victory does not come if you don’t pay for it. On 20th May, thousands of residents turned out for the largest protests against Vedanta ever staged in the city. Police allege the protestors became violent, hurling stones, torching cars, and threatening to burn public buildings. Officers came with fire, and killed 13 people over two days including a teenage girl.

The climax to the 23-year struggle was huge that began in fishing boats on the Indian ocean, frequently faced defeat and was at times kept alive by Fatima Babu alone, a teacher who spent years pursuing the campaign in the evenings after work. Earlier this year, the activists launched a 100-day campaign to stop the government granting Vedanta approval to expand the copper plant. The final day was 21 May when thousands of people marched in the streets and were fired on by the police. The outrage over the innocent people getting killed turned smelter in Tutricorin into a national issue. After one week, the gates were finally sealed. Dozens of patients are still in hospital beds recovering from the injuries they sustained during last week’s violence.

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