Around 779 people, including Vaiko, general secretary, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and R. Nallakannu, senior Communist Party of India leader, were arrested when they attempted to lay siege to Sterlite Copper facility here on Thursday.
The agitators raised slogans demanding closure of Sterlite Copper. Earlier, a demonstration was staged opposite Rajaji Park on Palayamkottai Road under the banner of People’s Movement against Sterlite. Cutting across party lines, a large number cadre and members of various associations of traders, fishermen, lawyers and voluntary organisations took part in the agitation.
Spearheading the protest, Mr. Vaiko alleged that Sterlite Copper was causing pollution in the area. “The unit poses serious health hazards. Farm lands in its vicinity had become fallow, and marine flora and fauna have been adversely affected owing to pollution of land, water and air. The polluted lands surrounding the company for a 40-km radius will remain fallow even after 100 years,” he said.
Citing the emission of noxious gas (sulphur dioxide) from the copper smelter in the early hours of March 23, Mr. Vaiko said that many people, including infants, got exposed to the gas in various parts of Tuticorin. They experienced suffocation, sneezing and burning sensation in eyes. Even green leaves in trees and indoor plants in houses had turned black. It had caused consternation among those who reside close to the unit, he said and made an appeal to the State government to close the copper plant in the best interests of people.
He levelled charges against the Collector, Superintendent of Police and Pollution Control Board officials, terming them “agents of Sterlite.” Mr. Vaiko said that he had been pleading for the closure of the unit since 1996 through protests, hunger strikes, rallies, and closure of shops in Tuticorin. The MDMK leader said that he had attended 20 hearings against the Sterlite in the past two years and added that he expected the final verdict from the Supreme Court in April.
Mr. Nallakannu said that it was a do or die situation for the Tuticorin populace. A huge quantum of Tamiraparani water was being pumped by the Sterlite, thus leaving farmers in the lurch. The Central and State governments should intervene in this issue and close the company, he said.
A. Ganesha Murthi, MDMK MP, T. Vellaiayan, president, Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peravai, S. Joel, district secretary, MDMK, K.S. Arjunan, district secretary, CPI (M), A. Mohanraj, district secretary, CPI, representatives of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi among others took part in the agitation.
Shops remained closed in Tuticorin on Thursday.