GroundXero: The death toll rises to 18, according to unofficial estimates, including at least one woman, and at least 30 more sustain bullet injuries. The firing happened when the protesters from Thoothukudi went for dharna outside the District Collector’s office. This marked the 100th day of the recent peaceful protests, in Thoothukudi, against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper which intensified in recent times, after almost 20 years of opposition and litigations.
The recent protests were triggered by the news of proposed expansion of the Sterlite Plant. The protesters are not just demanding that the expansion be scrapped, they in fact unanimously demanded for the plant to be closed. It was spearheaded by the residents of Kumareddiyapuram and other villages adjacent to the copper smelter. The company has had a long history of operating without valid renewals for extended periods and constructing new plants without proper authorization. The recent clearance for the expansion was also taken fraudulently.
A recent article in GroundXero reported, “Meanwhile more evidence which strengthens the locals’ case against Sterlite continues to emerge. A few days ago the Chennai Solidarity Group released a report which alleged that TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) had allowed Sterlite to operate with chimney stacks of far lower heights than legally required.” The height of the chimney stack remained unchanged at 60m though the legal minimum height at present production capacity should be 103m. The locals allege the TNPCB ignored this evidence against Sterlite and selectively placed charges which the company can easily comply to, in order to renew its Consent to Operate.
Today, to intensify the protest, a dharna was planned at District Collector’s office. The police started cordoning off the road to stop the protesters. However the people tried to move ahead. The police force then resorted to lathi charge and hurled teargas to disperse the crowd. The force even manhandled women and children. The protesters retaliated by pelting stones. The police then opened fire on the protesters that eventually led to death of 18 people (according to some estimates) through the day, including a woman. Consequently, public anger led to burning down of government and private vehicles in the complex and offices were ransacked. As per our sources, police vans, Vajra riot control vehicles, were taken control of by protesters on the highway, few were chased and toppled. Access to the harbour and sea-side was blocked off by people as police abandoned the post. DGP Tamil Nadu was about to deploy RAF in the area. Several police officers were also injured.
The local people allege that this was a planned action by the state government and the police. Some video evidences emerged where the police officers in civil dress were seen shooting at civilians with self-loading rifles which are used during encounters of ‘terrorists’. The police’s despotic acts continued as they even raided hospitals to take action against the injured people who were there for treatment.
Environment activist and member of the Chennai Solidarity Group, Nityanand Jayaraman took to Facebook to mention the high-handedness of the government and TNPCB, “The Government of the people has become the Government of the looters, the sand mafia, the real estate lobby, the corporate criminals, the vandals, the privateers and the immoral. What we call the Government is responsible for the life-threatening wounds it is inflicting on our democracy and on the soul of our land.” He later wrote to Mr. Nasimuddin (Secretary, Environment and chairperson, TNPCB) conveying his dismay over the government inaction and collusion of TNPC officials, even after having enough evidence against Sterlite. The full text of his message can be found here.
Meanwhile, in the world of Vedanta and money…
Post the 2013 Supreme Court judgment banning Vedanta’s mining project at the constitutionally protected adivasi hills of Niyamgiri, one of the biggest mining giants in the world seem to have struck a nervous spot regarding it’s investments in India. The low stock prices in the chart below, particularly on the left extreme, reflect it’s tensions post-Niyamgiri verdict.
The record low in Feb 2016 (red arrow) incidentally seems to coincide with the setback taken by the company when the Government of India declared that it could go ahead with the multi-billion dollar mega-merger with Cairn India only after paying for the shares the Income Tax Department had attached following the Rs 10,247-crore tax dispute, according to the Business Standard. The IT Department had also issued a tax notice to Cairn Energy, seeking over Rs 29,000-crore in tax.
On the other hand, yesterday, as attacks on the protesters at Thoothukodi went on through the day, the stock prices of Vedanta seem to have gradually gone up, as shown below.
This shows how the company and it’s investors look at the price of human lives. Incidentally, Vedanta’s current chairman Anil Agarwal, an Indian citizen living in London, is worth an estimated $3.3 billion, as of April 2018.
Political parties and Vedanta’s political donations
The above figures show the amount of political donations by Vedanta and it’s subsidiaries, over the past 8 financial years. It’s worth noting that the amount of donations dropped to nil, immediately post 2013. 2013 incidentally happens to be the same year that the SC passed the verdict banning Vedanta’s mining interests at Niyamgiri.
According to a report published in TheWire, “The BJP received a total of Rs 15 crore from Sterlite Industries, and Rs 7.5 crore from Cairn India – a Vedanta Resources subsidiary – in the FY ending March 31, 2014, the year the Lok Sabha elections were held”. We should recall that in 2016, and then later again this year, the BJP government at the center passed an amendment, and a subsequent additional clause, to the Finance Bill in order to allow foreign companies like Vedanta to freely fund political campaigns in India, not just from the date of the amendment, but in fact retroactively.
In case the resistance against the Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi is finally broken over the days, thanks to the state’s fire power, one could try taking a guess what the trends of Vedanta’s stock prices and political donations would look like then.