An anti-Sterlite protest, seeking the closure of Sterlite Copper’s smelter plant in Tuticorin or Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu over pollution concerns, turned violent on May 22. It ended up in clashes between the protesters and the police that led to nine deaths and property damage. E Kumar Sharma spoke to Sterlite Copper CEO P Ramnath and asked him what led to the violent clash and the impact of the developments on the company’s plans for the plant. Excerpts:
What exactly happened today?
I totally regret what has happened today. It was totally uncalled for and is really unfortunate. We had in fact taken all the precautionary steps by getting the court order for Section 144 of the IPC. The police and the collector had also taken precautionary steps by calling for a peace meeting with the protestors, but only one faction agreed to abide by what the collector and the superintendent of police had to say and they were allowed to conduct protest. However, there was one more faction which did not agree to this and they went ahead and took the law in their own hands.
2 shot dead by the police in Tuticorin, TN for protesting against the #sterlite copper smelter plant.Shocking & unbelievable protesters would be shot like animals. Who is behind this carnage? We all know who is behind #Vedanta! Can democratic protests suppressed by killings? pic.twitter.com/d9DwiQEBeH— Saravanan Annadurai (@asaravanan21) May 22, 2018
They started attacking the police, the collectorate , damaged and burnt a lot of vehicles. Our property was also attacked. In the township, lot of employee vehicles were burnt. So, there was complete lawlessness, including perhaps infiltration of number of nefarious elements, who probably had their own interests and it all took a violent turn, which we completely regret. Although we expected it to be peaceful given the enforcement of Section 144 and considering the efforts made by the police and the collectorate.
Given that things have reached this level, seeking closure of the Sterlite copper smelter plant, do you want to rethink on the options?
This is not the time to comment on this. As it appears, people have been misled by some vested interest groups into believing into something that is wrong. We have told them also to come and visit our plant and they can ascertain the facts for themselves.
What you think is the main issue that they are having with the plant? And what is your response to their objection?
I think they are under a wrong impression that the plant is causing pollution. It is not correct at all. In fact, the plant has been operating within all the specified parameters for the last several years. It is currently shut down as it is under regular maintenance. So, all the more, there was no reason for them to start off this and there was no immediate trigger also as the plant was under shut down for maintenance. Therefore, clearly, they were incited into this by the nefarious elements.
So, what is your understanding and estimate of the damage? Apparently, nine people are dead.
We have come to know about it from the media and the news says nine casualties.
Has the plant been damaged?
Touchwood, the plant has not been damaged, but they have come and terrorised our township people and their families. They have come and burnt the vehicles and we will have to assess the damage.