As an official of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board sealed the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi around 6.15 p.m. on Monday, Collector Sandeep Nanduri and Superintendent of Police Murali Rambha, who had taken charge after the fatalities during last week’s anti-Sterlite protests, looked relieved, and appealed to the people to help restore normalcy to the town.
Many people, who had accused Sterlite Copper of polluting the environment and putting their health in peril, assembled in front of the unit on the Thoothukudi-Madurai Bypass Road and burst crackers in celebration.
A. Evlin, 43, of Cruzpuram, who escaped death by a whisker on May 22, said the closure of the factory was the only thing on his mind. A victim of gunshot wounds, he told The Hindu that the bullet hit his left arm, missing the chest.
“Beyond monetary compensation for victims, we wanted the closure of Sterlite,” he said. He appealed to the government to bury all the deceased at one place, irrespective of their religion, caste and creed.
The flip side
But just as the port town appeared to be in a joyous mood following the turn of events, one section of people seemed jolted and lost. Their anguish was understandable, as the company employed 1,100 workers directly and provided indirect employment to thousands more. S.K.S.C.N. Dharmaraj, former chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Thoothukudi, said the closure of Sterlite would certainly affect GDP growth. Not only the industrial economy, but the whole economy of Thoothukudi would suffer due to the closure, he felt.
M. Karthi, a contract worker from Third Mile, Thoothukudi, said it was a tough situation for workers like him, as they had no alternative work in the immediate future. A ‘load operator’, he was earning ₹23,000 a month. “I managed to maintain my family. Now, it would be a hard task to get a job, that too one matching my current salary,” he said.
Welcoming the closure, K. Kanagaraj, State executive committee member, Communist Party of India (Marxist), told The Hindu that it was a victory for the people, who had been protesting continuously for the plant’s closure.