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Separatists Hijacked Sterlite Protesters’ Agenda: Vedanta Chairman

Anil Agarwal, chairman of Vedanta Resources, claimed the plant has followed all rules and regulations.

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After the death of 13 people who were protesting the proposed expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite plant in police firing in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi, the state government on Monday, 28 May, ordered the permanent closure of the plant.

In his first ever interview after the row, Anil Agarwal, chairman of Vedanta Resources said that many factions within the protesters were willing to have a discussion and get their doubts clarified about the project but the “separatists” hijacked their agenda in a violent manner.

There have been multiple petitions and court cases over the years against the plant but the none of them could eventually get the plant to shut down. The protestors allege that the plant has led to severe environmental degradation in Tuticorin, destroyed the green belt and led to severe health hazards, including widespread incidence of cancer, over the years.

However, Agarwal tells a different story.

In an interview to the Economic Times (ET), Agarwal, in a phone conversation from London, said that the company is ready to let any independent organisation probe the matter.

Calling the death of the protesters “unfortunate”, Agarwal said that the firm is ready to extend all possible support to the families of the deceased.

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‘Lack of Awareness, Fake News Led to Protests’

While claiming that the smelter does not have any liquid discharge, Agarwal said that lack of awareness and fake news were the reasons behind the misunderstandings.

We believe that lack of awareness among various stakeholders has been the key reason for such opposition and fake activists have used this to their advantage by spreading fake news.
Anil Agarwal told ET

He further said that the firm had invited the relevant stakeholders in the matter to visit the plant to check for any wrongdoings themselves but they never responded.

“We were always willing to have a dialogue with the protestors and address their concerns. This was even communicated to the general public and other stakeholders through print media,” he said.

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‘Sterlite a Victim of Fake Activism’

Calling the basic premise of the protest unfortunate, Agarwal said that false information was being propagated and the truth will be out.

The basic premise of the protest was unfortunate, as the plant was non-operational, awaiting Consent to Operate from TNPCB. False propaganda dominated over the truth, and we will continue to bring out the truth to the general public
Anil Agarwal told ET

Agarwal added that “anti-development associations” whipped up emotions of the people and this was not the first time it happened in the state.

“In the past too, other companies such as Tata, Maruti, Hindalco etc have faced such events. Unfortunately, misinformation spread by vested interests gets taken on the face value by the public at large, leading to such incidents. But it becomes dangerous when anti-social elements masquerade as activists,” said Agarwal.

Such activists are time and again raking up the sentiments of the public for their vested interests which have now cost the lives of innocent people. They wish to destabilise the Indian industry through orchestrating protests for various reasons.
Anil Agarwal to ET
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‘Followed Rules, Open for Any Enquiry’

Reiterating that the company did not breach any environmental laws, Agarwal said that he is open for any kind of enquiry into the matter.

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.
Anil Agarwal told ET

“I'm ready to have an independent agency to look at it. I will completely abide by the law of the land. I will come forward if something is found amiss because I am very confident that we have zero discharge (from the plant). If some independent agency comes in to verify, they are most welcome,” he added.

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On being questioned about the plant being just 14 km away from the Gulf of Mannar instead of the 25 km as a pre-requisite, he said that the gulf is not yet notified as National Marine Park as per Environmental Protection Act.

Gulf of Mannar is not yet notified as National Marine Park as per Environmental Protection Act or as per Wildlife Protection Act. This matter was debated in detail in the Hon’ble Supreme Court (Case: Sterlite Industries (India) Versus Union of India & Ors. Etc) and both state government and central government accepted that it is not yet notified as National Marine Park.
Anil Agarwal to ET
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‘Politics and Business Should Not be Mixed’

Agarwal said that the government needs to get to the bottom of the entire episode.

My request is to keep business away from politics. I fully agree with the fact that we need a strong government but we need to keep business away from politics. All over the world, successful economies don’t mix politics with business.
Anil Agarwal to ET

While saying that he did not want to point fingers at any particular entity including the government, he said that many factions within the protesters were willing to have a discussion and get their doubts clarified about the project but “the separatists have hijacked their agenda in a violent manner.”

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