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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
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:Copper
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Vedanta'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).

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Level of Investment:600,000,000
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.
Development of alternatives:In 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Year Ended 31 March 2013
[click to view]

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]

Production Release for the Fourth Quarter and

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

Sterlite Industries (India) Limited

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(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]

(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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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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Anti-Sterlite group demands Tuticorin plant closure
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The News Minute, March 24th, 2018. Thousands Come Out to Protest Sterlite Copper 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.
[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]

(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]

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

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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(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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Leotaud, V. R., 24th March, 2018. Protests in India against Vedanta's copper smelter.
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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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Foil Vedanta. 24th March, 2018. London and Tuticorin mass rally to ban Sterlite.
[click to view]

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

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

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 update18/08/2019
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