On 15th December, the NGT issued its verdict in favour of Sterlite, Thoothukudi, setting aside the Tamilnadu government’s action of closing down the plant in May. The Tribunal termed the shutdown “unjustifiable,” on the ground that there is no ‘scientific evidence’ that this company’s factory has polluted the environment. Further, it ordered all Government agencies to immediately issue the necessary approvals for the factory and provide electricity to start its operations within a week and the District Collector to provide all necessary protection for the operation of Sterlite, failing which severe action will be taken against the Collector.
A question that comes to the fore is whether the Tribunal has any right or jurisdiction to cancel the closure order issued by a state government. Another question is why the court has ordered Sterlite to deposit Rs.25 Crore to clear up waste and has asked the company to apply Rs.100 crore within a period of 3 years for the welfare of the people of Thoothukudi, when it does not agree that Sterlite was polluting the environment.
The pollution of Thoothukudi by Sterlite was very well documents by various agencies and some of them have also submitted this evidence in the courts in various cases. It is documented that the Sterlite factory has contaminated ground water and air with toxic substances resulting in deaths, serious illnesses and high incidence of cancer in the people living in the vicinity. Above all it was the demand of a vast majority of people of Thoothukudi to close down this factory permanently. Right from the beginning and at various times during these years, people of the region have agitated against the company and its pollution, but government authorities supported the Sterlite capitalists and attacked the protesting people.
Many cases were filed in the courts. But the company managed to win judgments in its favour and continued its production. Using its money power it was able to get the necessary approvals and orders from all agencies of the Indian State. The Executive, Judiciary and other governmental agencies such as the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) worked hand-in-glove with the Sterlite monopoly, ignoring all the norms and rules and shamelessly supporting the company’s drive for maximum profits. And now, the NGT which is supposed to be the watchdog against pollution of the environment has declared Sterlite innocent.
It is most shocking that not a single person who ordered the firing on unarmed protestors in May has been arrested or charge sheeted so far. While a number of cases were filed by various individuals and organizations with regard to Sterlite firing and brutal attack by the state, none of the cases have progressed or been issued any judgment. The NGT’s order for immediate action is in stark contrast to this.
The Indian State is least concerned about the well-being of its people. It has defended the unbridled exploitation of the land, rivers, ground water and other resources of the people by profit-hungry monopolies. This verdict shows once again that the agencies of the state such as pollution control boards, licensing authorities, judiciary and bourgeois political parties work for the interests of monopolies while claiming to be “regulators” and “protectors”. People cannot have faith in these agencies.