Vedanta Limited, a mining firm that owns the Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi, on Monday submitted 45,000 letters in favour of the copper smelter to a committee formed by the National Green Tribunal, reported The News Minute.

The letters were submitted when the three-members committee held a hearing at the National Green Tribunal Chennai bench on Vedanta’s petition to reopen the plant. On Sunday, the committee members visited the copper smelter plant.

During the hearing, counsel for Vedanta Limited claimed that an order issued by the state government directing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to close the plant was arbitrary and violated norms, reported Deccan Chronicle. The counsel argued that the closure order was issued without obtaining the company’s opinion and it was arbitrary.

Sterlite Copper’s Public Relations Officer M Esakkiappan said stakeholders approached the company after the plant was shut down and said they were “adversely affected by the move”. “They wanted a way to ensure that the plant was reopened and asked how they can oppose the move,” The News Minute quoted him as saying. “We discussed this and then leaders from every village began collecting letters from residents who didn’t want the plant to shut down. We demanded that a copy of the Aadhaar card be given with the submissions to prevent duplication.”

Esakiappan said the letters they received were from villagers, employees, contract workers, contractors, truckers associations, farmer associations and other stakeholders. Esakiappan also claimed that anti-Sterlite protestors on Monday abused and turned away around 4,000 people who wanted to submit their petitions in favour of the plant.

However, anti-Sterlite activists alleged that Sterlite Copper has collected letters of support for the last three months by paying people Rs 300 to Rs 2,000. “When we asked a few people who came to the Collector’s office why they were in favour of Sterlite, they claimed they had no idea what the meeting was about,” said Fatima Babu of the Anti-Killer Sterlite People’s Movement.

Babu said the people had been brought in by contractors and were told to give a copy of their Aadhaar card. “We believe they have been paid bribes up to Rs 2,000,” Babu said. “If this is true, the government should look into this. We never stopped any pro-Sterlite petitioners. We were offended but not violent.”

The National Green Tribunal panel has adjourned the hearing to October 5.

Thirteen people agitating against the expansion of the smelter were killed in police firing on May 22 and May 23 – prompting the state government to permanently shut down the plant days later. Several people were arrested for rioting, burning vehicles on the collectorate campus, stone pelting and damaging public property. Large-scale protests began in Thoothukudi in February, and May 22 was the 100th day of the agitation.