Sterlite copper smelter unit, Tamil Nadu, India

After 20 years of complaints, thousands gathered in Thoothukudi district in March, 2018 asking for the smelter to be shut down. Police killed 13 demonstrators in May 2018.


In May 22, 2018 as people protested against the Vedanta-owned Sterlite copper plant, the police opened fire on a rally  which marked the 100th day of demonstrations. The following day another person died from being hit by a rubber bullet, taking the death toll up to 13. Dozens of people were wounded. The government of Tamil Nadu then asked for a definitive closure of the plant; while welcoming the order, protestors said they need a cabinet decision on this or the company will move court to get a stay. (6). This massacre became word news.(4). (5). (7). (8). 

The background to current events is a follows. The ‘Anti-Sterlite People’s Committee’ protested against the company Sterlite Industries (India) Limited since March 2013. The factory belongs to the company Vedanta Group. On 23rd March 2013, many people from neighbourhood areas fell sick following noxious gas leak (1). It is common knowledge that sulphur dioxide is a byproduct of smelting. The effluent is  toxic  for a number of reasons. Following the protest, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board issued a notice directing the Vedanta group company to close the plant. The conflict continues today (2018).

Seven years before March 2013, in 1996, the copper smelter had begun operations in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu (Newsclick, 2018; Foil Vedanta, 2018). Protests against the plant began almost immediately, with hundreds of fishermen blockading the port with their boats, in order to prevent the ships carrying copper ore from unloading in March and October of 1996. However, this did not prevent operations. In July 1997, 165 women in a neighboring factory—Ramesh Flowers, fainted as a result of a toxic gas leak from the plant. Some of these women later had miscarriages (Foil Vedanta, 2018).

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Basic Data
NameSterlite copper smelter unit, Tamil Nadu, India
ProvinceTamil Nadu
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Chemical industries
Metal refineries
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsVedanta's 400 ktpa brown field copper smelter expansion project at Tuticorin in India, together with an associated 160 MW (2x 80 MW) captive power plant, to be expanded after 2018 to 800 ktpa (800 thousand tons per annum).

In 2015 the company had reported: Sterlite Copper, part of the $12.9-billion Vedanta group, is set for a Rs 3,300-crore expansion at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. The plant has faced legal battles over ecology issues and has since earmarked about Rs 450 crore for environmental protection. P Ramnath, chief executive officer of Sterlite Copper, said after the expansion, the plant would be Asia’s largest copper manufacturing facility at a single location. It is India’s largest copper producer, with 400,000 tonnes of annual production capacity, supplying 45 per cent of the country’s need.(2)
Level of Investment (in USD)600,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population15,000
Start Date1996
Company Names or State EnterprisesSterlite Industries Ltd. from India
Vedanta from United Kingdom
Relevant government actorsTamil Nadu Pollution Control Board , District Collector, Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee.

National Green Tribunal
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-‘Anti-Sterlite People’s Committee’, Contacts at

- Anti-Killer Sterlite People's Movement

-Foil Vedanta

- Tamil People in UK and Parai - Voice of Freedom
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
General strike in 2018.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts, Groundwater pollution or depletion
OtherPollution with sulphur dioxide.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
OtherRespiratory illnesses. Alleged increased cancer rates.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew legislation
Under negotiation
On April 2, 2013, the Supreme Court of India asked Sterlite Industries to pay Rs 100 crore as compensation for polluting the environment. The Supreme court has also directed that the amount is to be paid over three months from that day to the District Collector of Tuticorin. The situation is bound to change after the massacre of 22 May 2018.
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Project temporarily suspended
Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesIn 2013 it was reperted that a team of experts from IIT Madras and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board officials have begun inspecting the copper smelter unit of Sterlite Industries on a direction from the National Green Tribunal following an alleged noxious leak last month, causing health problems among locals. However, later on and until 2018 the smelter operated, and the current protest (2018) is caused by the plans of expansion.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board issued a notice directing the Vedanta group company to close the plant. Sterlite Industries moved the National Green Tribunal on April 1 , 2013, challenging the order, saying it had been passed without giving an opportunity to them. The company was fined. But in 2018 is planning to double its operation. Hence the current complaints (2018), and the massacre of 22 May 2018. The outcome is still uncertain. The plant might be definitively closed down.
Sources and Materials

Year Ended 31 March 2013
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Production Release for the Fourth Quarter and

The Anti-Sterlite Peoples Struggle Committee released a booklet titled 'Doctors Speak Out'

Sterlite Industries (India) Limited

The Wire. The Story Behind The Anti-Sterlite Protest. A backgrounder about the unit and its parent company Vedanta Resources and the how the plant breached human and environmental rights.
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(1)Vedanta-Sterlite – Dangerous by Design: Nityanand Jayaraman
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Anti-Sterlite group demands Tuticorin plant closure
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IIT, pollution control board team begins inspection of Sterlite unit
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Members of anti-Sterlite panel to demand permanent closure of the Copper smelter plant
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(2) Business Standard. Sterlite Copper to invest Rs 3,300 crore in Tamil Nadu. CEO P Ramnath said after the expansion, Tuticorin plant will be Asia's largest copper manufacturing facility at a single location. T E Narasimhan | Chennai , March 17, 2015
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Leotaud, V. R., 24th March, 2018. Protests in India against Vedanta's copper smelter.
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The Hindu. 26th March, 2018. Thoothukudi villagers continue protest against Sterlite plant expansion.
[click to view], 25th March, 2018. Tamil Nadu: Thousands protest against Sterlite Copper’s plan to expand its plant in Thoothukudi.
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The Indian Express, 26th March, 2018. 'Ban Sterlite': Thousands of protesters hit the streets demanding closure of copper plant in Thoothukudi.
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The News Minute, March 24th, 2018. Thousands Come Out to Protest Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi.
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(8) The Independent, 23 May 2018
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(4) Why Sterlite-like protests are inevitable in India. More often than not, the State fails to implement environmental laws and use funds meant for affected communities effectively
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(5) Le Monde, Les conflits environnementaux se multiplient en Inde

Treize manifestants ont été tués par la police à Tuticorin, dans le sud du pays. Ils protestaient contre la réouverture et l’extension d’une fonderie de cuivre accusée de polluer l’air et les nappes phréatiques.

LE MONDE | 26.05.2018| Par Julien Bouissou
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(6) Business Standard, Blow for Vedanta as Tamil Nadu orders permanent closure of Sterlite factory . While welcoming the order, protestors said they need cabinet decision on this or company will move court to get a stay. T E Narasimhan | Chennai , May 28, 2018
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(7)VIDEO: Policía india usa rifles de asalto para dispersar protestas que dejan ya más de diez muertos . 24 may 2018. Las manifestaciones contra una planta minera a la que acusan de contaminar el aire y las fuentes de agua locales tienen lugar en una ciudad al sur la India .
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Media Links

Interview In Hindi
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Interview In Hindi
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Stalin, J. S. D., 25th March, 2018. Thousands Protest In Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin Against Sterlite Copper Plant. NDTV.
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(3) Sterlite polluting Thamirabarani river shut it down: Stalin. Mar 27, 2018.
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Sekhar, A. 25th March, 2018. 'Can you hear the voice of Tamils?’: Sterlite protests outside Vedanta founder’s house in UK. The News Minute.
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Newsclick. 26th March, 2018. Thousands Unite Against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant In TN’s Thoothukudi.
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Foil Vedanta. 24th March, 2018. London and Tuticorin mass rally to ban Sterlite.
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Livemint, 27 March 2018. Tamil Nadu: Protests against copper plant in Thoothukudi intensify. As traders’ associations join the stir demanding the closure of a copper smelting factory, shops remain closed in Thoothukudi in a 24-hour shutdown.
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Other Documents

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Source: N. Rajesh (The Hindu)
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Thousands gather on the streets of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu to protest against the Sterlite copper plant for allegedly causing pollution. March 2018. Photo by Saisen/ Mint
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Other CommentsOne of the most engaged social activist and part of the Anti-Sterlite People Struggle Committee is the journalist Nityanand Jayaraman.
Meta Information
ContributorSwapan Kumar Patra & Arpita Bisht & JMA
Last update23/12/2018