Environmental laws

Vedanta got clearance for Tamil Nadu copper smelter by misrepresenting its location, activists say

The expansion project in Tuticorin is facing stiff resistance from local residents.

New evidence has emerged that raises questions about the environmental clearance granted to Vedanta Limited’s copper smelter project in Tamil Nadu in 2009. Environmentalists allege the company had misled the Union environment ministry and the Madras High Court about the location of the proposed project, and officials of the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu had backed the misrepresentation. The new evidence renders the project’s environmental clearance illegal, the environmentalists claim.

Neither the company nor the state corporation responded to questions emailed by Scroll.in. Questions sent to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change also went unanswered.

Since February, large-scale protests have been taking place in Tuticorin, the town in southern Tamil Nadu where Sterlite Copper, a unit of Vedanta Limited, runs a copper smelter with the capacity to produce 4,38,000 tonnes of copper anodes per annum, or 1,200 tonnes per day. Vedanta Limited is part of Vedanta Resources, one of the world’s largest mining and metals conglomerates. The smelter has been operational since 1996. The company wants to double the capacity by setting up another unit producing 4,38,000 tonnes per annum.

If the expansion does take place, the project would become the world’s largest smelter located in a densely populated urban area. Tuticorin has a population of 4.11 lakh, according to the 2011 census. Copper smelters are classified as “red” by the environment ministry, indicating that they release the highest level of hazardous industrial waste.

The townspeople are resisting the project. “The fumes from the existing copper plant are already ruining our health,” said Rajkumar, a Tuticorin resident. “The expansion of this industry will kill us.”

But it is not just the protests that have cast a shadow over the project. An environmental non-profit, the Chennai Solidarity Group, has released documents that call into question the basis on which the company was granted an environmental clearance for the expansion.

‘No public hearing required’

On January 1, 2009, the company secured the necessary environmental clearance for the project from the environment ministry without holding a public hearing as mandated by the law. “Public hearing is not required due to the location in the notified SIPCOT industrial area,” the ministry said.

SIPCOT refers to the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu, which set up an industrial complex over 1063.59 acres in Tuticorin in 1994. Sterlite claims SIPCOT transferred 324.53 acres of land to the company for its expansion project between February 2009 and June 2010.

In 2009, M Pushparayan, project director of a Tuticorin-based NGO, filed a writ petition in Madras High Court, challenging the environmental clearance given to the Sterlite project on the grounds that no public hearing had been held.

Public consultation is a mandatory part of the Environmental Impact Assessment of 29 categories of projects under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986. The construction of such a project can commence only after the assessment is completed and clearances given.

However, according to a clarification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in 2014, all projects located within industrial estates notified before the Environmental Impact Assessment rules were amended in 2006 could be given clearances without a public hearing. The ministry pointed this out in its submission to the High Court.

In the court, SIPCOT backed Sterlite’s claims about its expansion project lying within the boundaries of the corporation’s existing industrial park, which had been notified and approved before 2006.

In 2016, the High Court ruled in the company’s favour. “On a perusal of the notifications also we are satisfied that no public consultation is required for the present case,” it said.

What the survey numbers reveal

In late 2017, residents were informed by the local administration that SIPCOT wanted to build a new industrial complex, called the Tuticorin Industrial Park, adjacent to its existing industrial complex. It had applied for an environmental clearance for the new industrial park in 2015. The residents were told a public hearing would be held in January 2018 as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment.

SIPCOT’s application for the environmental clearance listed the survey numbers of the 1,616 acres of land on which it wanted to built the Tuticorin Industrial Park. When Nityanand Jayaraman of the Chennai Solidarity Group examined the application, he found these survey numbers tallied with the survey numbers listed by Vedanta Limited in its application for a fresh environmental clearance for the project in March 2018. The table below is part of this application.

Many of the survey numbers in the table above can be found in the document submitted by SIPCOT while applying for an environmental clearance for the Tuticorin Industrial Park. The common survey numbers are highlighted in orange.

Essentially, this means Sterlite Industries is building its expansion project outside the existing SIPCOT industrial complex, said Jayaraman, on a piece of land that is yet to be developed as an industrial estate. “When I looked at the map, I saw that the copper plant was completely removed from the SIPCOT industrial complex where Sterlite had claimed its factory was coming up,” he said.

This new evidence shows that the ongoing work is illegal, he added. “The environmental clearance was obtained bypassing public consultation on the grounds that the proposed factory site was located inside a notified and approved SIPCOT Industrial Complex,” Jayaraman said. “Now it is revealed that the factory is located outside the complex.”

The Tuticorin Industrial Park, where the project is located, does not have an environmental clearance, he pointed out.

With the environmental clearance for its expansion project set to expire in December 2018, Sterlite has applied for a fresh environmental clearance, which too states that the project lies within the existing SIPCOT industrial complex.

The company did not respond to Scroll.in’s questions, seeking its comments on the discrepancy. In a statement released to the press earlier, it had said: “The Tuticorin plant expansion has received all necessary regulatory clearances and our primary focus is ensuring the wellbeing of local communities around our operations.”

Official silence

Sterlite Copper lies on the edge of Tuticorin town, along the Madurai bypass road. Next to the large grey walls of the existing factory is a vast stretch of land, where trucks can be seen shuttling between the sheds erected by the company. This is where the new copper smelter would be built, said the residents of the nearby village of Kumareddyapuram.

Access to the project site is restricted. Scroll.in was only able to see the project site from a distance of around 100 metres.

When asked about the contradiction in the stated location of the project and the survey numbers, M Veerappan, the district revenue officer, said he was not authorised to respond to the question.

The district collector did not respond to Scroll.in’s phone calls and text messages.

This is the first part of a series on Vedanta Limited’s copper smelter project in Tuticorin. The next part looks at why local residents are resisting the project.

Update: A spokesperson of Sterlite Copper responded to Scroll.in’s questions on April 6. “We would like to clarify that our statement on environmental clearance granted in 2009 is for the proposed project and not for the land parcels as referred in your question,” said Jijo Mathew, Public Relations Manager. “So far as the discrepancy with respect to the inclusion of our land parcels in proposed Tuticorin Industrial park, SIPCOT is concerned, we cannot apprehend the reasons for SIPCOT applying as part of TIP proposal.” He reiterated that the project falls “within SIPCOT Industrial Complex- Phase-II scheme which was conceived in 1996 itself.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.