Last update:

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. The project is currently suspended.


Vedanta Group’s Sterlite copper smelter unit began operating in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu in 1996 (Newsclick, 2018; Foil Vedanta, 2018). Protests 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 because of a toxic gas leak from Sterlite. Some of these women later had miscarriages (Foil Vedanta, 2018). 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sterlite copper smelter unit, Tamil Nadu, India
State or province:Tamil Nadu
Location of conflict:Tuticorin
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 commodities:Electricity
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Vedanta's project encompasses a 400 ktpa brown field copper smelter and 160 MW (2x 80 MW) captive power plant. It is India’s largest copper producer, with 400,000 tonnes of annual production capacity, supplying 45 per cent of the country’s needs (2). The plant has faced legal battles over ecology issues and has since earmarked about Rs 450 crore for environmental protection.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project600,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:15,000
Start of the conflict:1996
Company names or state enterprises:Sterlite Industries Ltd. from India
Vedanta from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:Tamil 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-‘Anti-Sterlite People’s Committee’, Contacts at
- Anti-Killer Sterlite People's Movement
-Foil Vedanta
- Tamil People in UK and Parai - Voice of Freedom
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic 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
Other Environmental impactsPollution with sulphur dioxide.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
Other Health impactsRespiratory illnesses. Alleged increased cancer rates.
Socio-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
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.
Proposal and development of alternatives:In 2013, it was reported 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:After the massacre on May 22, 2018, the plant was temporarily closed down, but the outcome is still uncertain in light of recent lobbying for its reopening.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Year Ended 31 March 2013
[click to view]

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

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.
[click to view]

(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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Anti-Sterlite group demands Tuticorin plant closure
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Members of anti-Sterlite panel to demand permanent closure of the Copper smelter plant
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IIT, pollution control board team begins inspection of Sterlite unit
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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.
[click to view]

(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 .
[click to view]

(1)Vedanta-Sterlite – Dangerous by Design: Nityanand Jayaraman
[click to view]

(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
[click to view]

(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
[click to view]

(9) The News Minute. Remember Thoothukudi: My fight for justice is under surveillance, says Snowlin's mother (Rao 2019)
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(10) The Wire. 'They Were Meant to Protect Us. Instead They Killed Us': Thoothukudi Prepares to Vote (Muralidharan 2019)
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The News Minute, March 24th, 2018. Thousands Come Out to Protest Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi.
[click to view]

(11) Money Control. Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu is back in the spotlight (Jagannathan 2021)
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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.
[click to view]

(8) The Independent, 23 May 2018
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Leotaud, V. R., 24th March, 2018. Protests in India against Vedanta's copper smelter.
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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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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Interview In Hindi
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Interview In Hindi
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Newsclick. 26th March, 2018. Thousands Unite Against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant In TN’s Thoothukudi.
[click to view]

Foil Vedanta. 24th March, 2018. London and Tuticorin mass rally to ban Sterlite.
[click to view]

Stalin, J. S. D., 25th March, 2018. Thousands Protest In Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin Against Sterlite Copper Plant. NDTV.
[click to view]

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.
[click to view]

Sekhar, A. 25th March, 2018. 'Can you hear the voice of Tamils?’: Sterlite protests outside Vedanta founder’s house in UK. The News Minute.
[click to view]

(3) Sterlite polluting Thamirabarani river shut it down: Stalin. Mar 27, 2018.
[click to view]

Other comments:One of the most engaged social activist and part of the Anti-Sterlite People Struggle Committee is the journalist Nityanand Jayaraman.
Meta information
Contributor:Swapan Kumar Patra & Arpita Bisht & JMA
Last update14/02/2022
Conflict ID:906
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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