DMK, allies endorse oxygen production

Plant must be monitored by govt., says Kanimozhi; Kamal, Seeman oppose move

Published - April 27, 2021 01:30 am IST - CHENNAI

Giving clearance:  Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi after attending the all-party meeting in Chennai

Giving clearance: Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi after attending the all-party meeting in Chennai

Many parties in Tamil Nadu on Monday favoured the conditional resumption of medical oxygen production at Vedanta’s sealed Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi in view of the spread of COVID-19.

Emerging from an all-party meeting, convened by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, which lasted over two hours, DMK Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi told journalists that all parties in the DMK-led alliance were for allowing Sterlite to produce only oxygen, and not for operating any other unit on its campus.

“Moreover, the Tamil Nadu government should provide electricity to the plant only for producing oxygen. This, too, should be temporary, and should not be permanent and not be considered a precedent,” said Ms. Kanimozhi.

Replying to a query, she said it should be allowed “under the supervision of the Tamil Nadu government” and “technicians from the plant could be used” with the “cooperation of the people”.

Under the present circumstances, when the fresh COVID-19 cases were on the rise across the country, the need for oxygen may be more in the coming days, she said and that would have to be considered.

A release from the DMK said that its representatives also urged for “providing free supply of oxygen produced from the plant to the people of Tamil Nadu”. The Congress, the BJP and the Left parties also took part in the meeting.

BJP State president L. Murugan said the plant should be allowed to produce only oxygen. “Only after exhausting the oxygen needs of Tamil Nadu should it be supplied to others,” he said.

MDMK leader Vaiko said, in a statement, that the Tamil Nadu government should take the plant under its control to produce only oxygen since there was a need for the gas.

“Engineers and technicians needed for operating the plant could be sourced from public sector undertakings or engineers already with Sterlite on contract. Under no circumstances, Sterlite management should be allowed to operate the plant," Mr. Vaiko, also a Rajya Sabha MP said.

The TNCC, represented by K.V. Thangkabalu and K. Jayakumar, said the plant could be allowed to function on a temporary basis to produce oxygen at a time when saving people’s lives is important. They suggested that an expert committee on environment, headed by the Collector, be constituted to monitor the production and distribution of oxygen from the plant. “No other activity must be permitted inside the plant except the production of oxygen,” the party submitted in the all-party meet.

Tamil Maanila Congress president G.K. Vasan said it was important to gain the confidence of the people of Thoothukudi, adding that restrictions and measures need to be put in place inside the plant.

AMMK general secretary T.T.V. Dhinakaran called upon the High Court to monitor the functioning of the Sterlite plant.

Opposing the move

Naam Tamilar Katchi chief coordinator Seeman and Makkal Needhi Maiam founder Kamal Haasan opposed the all-party meet’s decision.

While Mr. Seeman said it was a mockery to claim that a factory that was responsible for environmental degradation would now be producing oxygen for the people, Mr. Haasan asked if there was no other factory that could produce medical oxygen.

“The pandemic is getting worse and lives are being lost due to a shortage of oxygen. MNM agrees that the production of oxygen needs to be increased. However, I do not agree with the decision to reopen the Sterlite factory for the production of oxygen,” he said in a statement.

Stating that MNM, MDMK, NTK and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi were not invited for the meeting, Mr. Haasan said the parties had participated in protests seeking the plant’s closure.

“The families of the 13 people who died in police firing will not pardon these people” he said.

Mr. Seeman said, “ When people were suffering from breathlessness, cancer and other ailments, the Sterlite management did not care about anything, except profits. Now, the management is saying that they care about people. This is just opportunistic.”

VCK founder Thol. Thirumavalavan said, “This decision to allow Sterlite to function only for the purpose of manufacturing oxygen causes extreme uneasiness and contradictions. However, because it is an all-party decision, we shall abide by the same. We accept this decision despite the contradictions because it has been made with the intent of protecting people’s lives. But the State government must ensure that this does not pave the way for Sterlite to remain open permanently.”

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