TN Allows Sterlite Plant to Open for 4 Months for Oxygen Supply 

The TN govt has passed a resolution to operate the Sterlite Copper plant for 4 months to augment oxygen production.

3 min read
The Tamil Nadu government has passed a resolution to operate the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi for four months to augment the state’s oxygen production.

The Tamil Nadu government has passed a resolution to operate the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi for four months to augment the state's oxygen production.

At an all-party meeting led by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, different political leaders came together to decide on the matter.

Eight parties at the meeting, including the AIADMK, DMK, Congress, BJP, PMK and Left parties endorsed the reopening of the plant for oxygen production. Vedanta Private Limited, the parent company of Sterlite Copper, had written to the Union government, the state government and the Supreme Court last week offering its services to produce oxygen amid the shortage in the country. The proposal, however, led to a debate as the plant had been shut down in 2018 for violating environmental norms.


Temporary Permission to Function

The main opposition, DMK, agreed that the plant can be granted temporary permission to function due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi, who was present at the meeting, said that a committee led by the district collector, superintendent of police and health officials should keep track of the production. The committee, she said, should also have representation of anti-Sterlite protesters, environmentalists and locals.

The DMK also wanted the oxygen to be given free of cost to the residents of the state.

“Sterlite can be used to produce oxygen alone and not allow it to restart any of its other functions. Tamil Nadu government must provide power supply. This has to be temporary and this permission to produce oxygen should not be as part of a long term move to reopen the plant,” said Kanimozhi to the media.

While BJP chief L Murugan merely reiterated that the oxygen produced should be used to a large extent in Tamil Nadu, MDMK chief Vaiko said the state government should take over the unit to produce oxygen.

He insisted that the required engineers can be loaned from public sector undertakings and that Vedanta should not be allowed to operate the unit on its own.

Vedanta’s Plea in SC

However, just hours before the meeting convened, Vedanta filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court, asserting that the Tamil Nadu government should not be allowed to take over the oxygen plant. The company claimed that the state government does not have the required operational expertise.

According to the company’s petition, while it has the capacity to manufacture over 1,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen per day, it is ready to supply 500 metric tonnes of medical oxygen immediately from the plant.

Tamil Nadu currently has an oxygen supply of 400 MT, but the state government has predicted that the demand could rise up to 450 MT as cases continue to rise. A portion of this is distributed to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Therefore, if the consumption in the state rises, the state will find it necessary to tap into all possible sources of oxygen to help patients.


The 2018 Shutdown

Sterlite was sealed shut in 2018 for violation of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) norms after 13 civilians were killed during an anti-Sterlite protest.

While Sterlite said it was ready to do the needful to manufacture oxygen, the state government vehemently opposed the company’s plea, stating that reopening the plant will lead to law-and-order issues in the district.

Following this, the district collector of Thoothukudi had also conducted a public hearing in his office regarding the reopening of the plant, given the medical oxygen situation across the country. After a majority of the people present in the hearing opposed the reopening of the plant, the DC passed a resolution against Sterlite’s request.

The court is scheduled to hear the plea on Monday.

(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been republished here with permission.)

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