ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tragedy of Tuticorin

The Supreme Court judgment on Sterlite's pollution sends out a wrong message.

Can a fine of Rs 100 crore compensate for decades of poor environmental regulation resulting in a history of pollution and injury? In its wisdom, the Supreme Court has decided that, despite evidence before it establishing that Sterlite India’s copper smelter plant at Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu had polluted water and air, it would suffice to give it a rap on the knuckles – an insufficient fine – and allow it to continue operations. All this because it provides employment and revenue. For Sterlite this was a victory: its stock prices went up instantly. For environmentalists fighting for better regulation of such polluting industries and local groups who have opposed the plant from its inception, it was a setback.

Controversy has refused to part ways with Sterlite Industries. In the early 1990s, it tried to set up this copper smelter plant in Maharashtra, on the verdant and ecologically-sensitive Konkan coast, near the village of Sheregaon in Ratnagiri district. Local opposition however was so strong that despite clearance from the Maharashtra government, the company was left with no option but to relocate to another state. In hindsight, it seems remarkable that even though local people around Tuticorin raised similar objections (as the plant lies within 25 km of the Gulf of Mannar, an ecologically fragile area) the plant was cleared by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Tamil Nadu government and its pollution control board.

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