Even after huge public outcry and protest, Vedanta Sterlite company is moving ahead endangering the lives of its workers. An injured worker, who was denied compensation by Sterlite Copper attempted suicide in front of the factory on May 13, 2018. Kartheepan, the 31-year-old employee was injured in a workplace accident more than a year ago. The accident had made him permanently disabled and the company was called out for ignoring safety rules deliberately and not paying sufficient amount as compensation.
People of the place have, many times in the past, raised their voice against Vedanta Sterlite due to a wide array of reasons. One of it was that the company was violating worker safety rules. Kartheepan was injured in March 2017 when his left arm was sucked into a conveyor belt, crushing it and dragging him all the way up to his armpit.
Nithyanand Jayaraman, who reported the issue back then said on social media that he had spoken to Katheerpan who said, ‘I am not begging. I am demanding a compensation because they have destroyed my life. They are making it seem as if the settlement amount will cause them a huge loss.’
Sterlite’s parent company, Vedanta Ltd. specialises in mining and refining non-ferrous metals – copper, zinc and aluminium. The Thoothukudi plant is a copper smelter complex. In 1993, the same company was denied permission to run its plant in Maharashtra after protests by the people that lasted a year. A government-appointed committee had, back then, found that such industries would endanger the region’s fragile coastal environment.
However, the same company was cleared with a No Objection Certificate (NOC) by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) in 1994. The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an Environmental Clearance in 1995 for Sterlite Copper.
Starting from 1997, the residents of the place have been reporting various ailments and problems resulting from the gases, smoke and other residues emitted by the company. Kartheepan’s suicide attempt is just one among the many incidents of absolute neglect from the huge business that is adamant on breaking rules and polluting the environment and even killing employers and residents.
Kartheepan was not paid even a day’s lost wages by the factory. Negligent handling of his case by the company has left him with a dead arm that will now have to be amputated.
Workers losing lives and being injured are dangerously common in Sterlite Copper. A list of deaths and injuries in the Newsminute show the gravity of the situation to which Tamil Nadu government is feigning ignorance. According to the report, 17 people have been killed and a number of people have been injured in the period of operation of this factory just between 2010 and 2013. There have been many instances when the poisonous gases have leaked and affected those who inhaled it. The legal battles that went all the way to the Supreme Court of India managed to shut down the factory a number of times but it always reopened with the help of clearances from the state administration.
People of the area hold the Tamil Nadu government responsible for this. On March 24, 2018, tens of thousands of Thoothukudi residents flooded the streets demanding immediate closure of Sterlite Copper that has been polluting Thoothukudi for two decades. The protestors accused the Tamil Nadu administration including Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board of siding with the business, putting the workers’ lives in danger since the establishment of the company in 1998.
Various studies in the country have linked health issues including miscarriages and cancer to pollution by Sterlite. Apart from this, in 2007, the Norwegian Council of Ethics blacklisted Vedanta as the company was found in violation of established norms of human rights, worker safety and environmental due diligence.
In February 2015 and February 2016, Vedanta wrote to the Council of Ethics requesting a review of the 2007 decision. On 9 March 2017, the Council of Ethics released its annual report which said, ‘In 2016, the Council performed a particularly thorough assessment of Vedanta Resources, which has been excluded since 2007, but concluded that grounds for exclusion continue to exist.’
Even under these circumstances, Tamil Nadu government shows no sign of taking action against Sterlite Copper.