Tamil Nadu government which tops the list of Covid vaccine wastage in the nation and accusing the Centre of diverting vaccine and oxygen to its neighbouring states, has said in categorical terms that it would not allow the closed Sterlite to produce oxygen which is in demand for Corona virus patients all over the country.
The locals and politicians, urban Naxals and pseudo environmental activists are once again up in arms against Vendanta groups Sterlite copper smelter which was shut down following protests on cooked up environmental issues, to permit its closed units to produce Oxygen to meet the raising demands.
Tamil Nadu government on 28th May 2018 had ordered the closure of Sterlite’s copper smelter unit in Thoothukudi after the renewed mass protests by Naxals, the church backed environmental activists, DMK, left and other fringe outfits. It is alleged a world top-ranked copper major was behind the protests as it did not want any competitor to its monopoly. Their protests turned violent leading police to open fire and ordered a lathi charge in which 14 people were killed. On 28th the government ordered the closure of the unit once for all. The Vedanta group’s legal battle is still continuing. The SC stayed the order of NGT and allowed Sterlite copper to approach the Madras High Court, which upheld the government order. The case is now in SC with Sterlite appealed against the Madras HC order. Its request to access the plant for maintenance has not been entertained by the court so far.
Following the footsteps of Tata, Ambani and others in sharing community social responsibility, the copper major on humanitarian grounds, has come its own to allow it to produce 1,000 tons per day or 920-kilo litres of oxygen from its Sterlite copper premise in Thoothukudi which had been remained shut for over three years. Vedanta group said it has two oxygen plants, which can be operated independently and supply around 10 tons per day (tpd) to various state governments to meet the rising demand for covid patients. TN CM Edapadi K Palaniswamy who chaired a review meeting on the Covid 19 issue ,asked the industries department to explore the possibilities of giving temporary licenses to industrial units which are ready to supply oxygen during this critical time.
The Sterlite group had also written separate identical letters to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan and the TN CM offering to produce oxygen from its closed Thoothukudi unit. It also filed a petition in the Supreme Court in this regard. Sterlite CEO Pankaj Kumar in his letter to Union Health Minister said “ we would be grateful to be allowed this opportunity to support the nation’s needs. Our staff stand prepared to get these two plants operational in the shortest possible time and begin dispatching oxygen to the critical areas as per your direction”.
In his letter to TN CM, he said “ Covid cases were increasing at a rapid rate in Tamil Nadu and other states. Most state governments have been facing a shortage of oxygen supply to treat the increasing number of Covid patients. the oxygen plant is presently lying shut owing to the order of the state government shutting down owing to the order by the TNPCB and the state government shutting down the Copper Smelter unit of the company. This is a humble request to grant us the necessary permission and allow us to run the oxygen plant which will be instrumental in supporting the state governments in these critical times”.
In the meanwhile, while hearing the Vedanta group’s plea regarding making the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi operational again to manufacture medical grade oxygen, the SC said it can’t cite the law and invite problems at a time when the country is struggling for supply. The court said on 22nd, describing the Covid -19 situation as “ almost a national emergency” and agreed to hear Vedanta’s plea on the ground that it would produce 1,000 tons of Oxygen and give it free of cost for treatment of patients.
A bench headed by CSJ S A Bobde suggested that Tamil Nadu can produce it and asked the state government to submit a proposed plan by Monday ( 26th April). It said “ Why don’t you fulfil your responsibility in manufacturing Oxygen? Just because you have a problem with Vedanta, you will not manufacture oxygen? What kind of argument is this. We are not interested in whether Vedanta or A , B or C runs it. We are interested in ensuring Oxygen is produced. It is not a question of Vedanta. People are dying? You (state) can produce Oxygen”.
Earlier TN counsel Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan said that the reopening of the oxygen plant could be an invitation for law and order problems since the public is opposed to the same. “ There is a total lack of confidence there. 13 persons had lost their lives earlier there (Thoothukudi). The CSJ led bench said “Yesterday you did not tell us about the law and order situation. The situation would have been different. Have you filed this on oath?.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the affected families organisation suggested that the TN government take over the unit and produce oxygen. He said “ we have no problem if the state of Tamil Nadu take over the plant and produce oxygen. The bench said TN might have surplus oxygen but the issue is about the whole nation. The national assets of the country should be equally distributed among the citizens”.
MDMK chief Vaiko, environmental activists Nityanand Jayaraman is opposing any move to allow the Sterlite to get access to its plant. Vaiko in a statement said “ there is no need for additional production of oxygen as the government of India says there is no shortage of oxygen. It has been mentioned that the problem is only in the transportation of oxygen from one place to another on time. Since no shortage, Sterlite should not be allowed access to the plant”.
Nityanand Jayaraman said “ the company is attempting at a back door entry to get access to its plants.
It is to be noted that the people, who lost job and livelihood after the closure of the Sterlite unit, have been demanding for its revival. But the vested interests with funding from foreign hands are opposing any move to reopen the same. In a meeting to hear the public opinion, the district collector said the state would not allow access to Sterlite to produce oxygen.