27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi — Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.
Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamilnadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.
“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.
34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.
The Sterlite factory is currently operating on leave granted by the Supreme Court, which issued an injunction on the Madras High Court order.
Reported by Nityanand Jayaraman