UK Groups Protest Against Vedanta Resources Following Tuticorin Police Firing

The Sterlite Copper smelter in Tuticorin is facing protests, with local residents complaining that it results in water, soil and air pollution, causing health problems.


Deadly protests held last week in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, over the alleged pollution caused by Vedanta group’s Sterlite Copper smelter found an echo halfway across the world in the United Kingdom on May 26, the Hindustan Times reported.

Campaign groups such as Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in UK, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, South Asia Solidarity Group, Tamil Solidarity, Parai Voice of Freedom and Veera Tamilar Munnani held a two-hour protest outside India House, North London, asking for an inquiry by the Theresa May-led UK government into alleged violations by British Indian Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Resources.

The groups protested with traditional parai drums, and raised slogans to ask for the delisting of the company from London Stock Exchange. They also asked the UK government to look into “multiple legal, environmental and human rights violations by Vedanta Resources,” after 13 people were killed following protests against the smelter that began in Tuticorin on May 22.

Agarwal, meanwhile, expressed sadness over the loss of lives in the protests. “Vedanta as a responsible corporate citizen and on humanitarian grounds, we will extend all possible support to families of the deceased and severely injured,” he said in an interview to the Economic Times, adding that he is ready for the company to be looked into by an independent agency.

Sterlite was the first company set up by the billionaire in India before he launched Vedanta Resources on the London Stock Exchange in 2003. The company now has operations across India and Africa.

“It is disgusting to learn that a British company has put its profits above human cries for safe air to breathe and water to drink,” Karthik Kamalakannan from Tamil People in UK was quoted as saying in the HT report. “We are hugely shocked that sniper style shooters were employed to save this criminal company.”

Meanwhile, members of the UK government’s opposition has been calling for the delisting of the “rogue” company from the stock exchange. “The news from Tamil Nadu that 13 people protesting against Vedanta have been killed is shocking and demands action,” Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, HT reported.

“This is a major multinational company that for years has operated illegal mining concerns, trashing the environment and forcibly evicting local people. Campaigners and international NGOs like Amnesty International have accused Vedanta of a string of human rights and environmental abuses in India, Zambia and across the globe,” he added. “After the massacre of the protesters this week, regulators must now take action. Vedanta must be immediately delisted from the London Stock Exchange, and prevent further reputation damage to London’s financial markets from this rogue corporation.”

The copper smelter in Tuticorin was stopped for maintenance at the end of March, and the time period was extended as the local people mounted an opposition against it, alleging that the pollution caused by it is adversely affecting their health. The existing smelter plant has caused water, soil and air pollution since it was set up in 1996, causing respiratory and skin problems, especially among children, the area’s residents say.

As people were protesting against the expansion of this subsidiary of Vedanta Resources in the area, the state police opened fire against them, killing 13, and injuring 60 on May 22 and May 23.  In a report sent to the Indian government, the Tamil Nadu government said that anti-social elements “instigated” the police to open fire, the Times of India reported.

Agarwal, however, defended his company’s environment record. “As far as the question of environmental damage is concerned, we are stricter than other nations in the world. You will not believe that we have 25 world-best experts who look at the complete environmental aspect of the company,” he told ET. “We follow zero harm, zero discharge and zero waste policy across units,” he added.

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