The major issue with Tamil Nadu politics is that no one has raised the issue of pollution seriously.
The killing of 11 protesters, highlighting the environmental and health impact of Sterlite copper-smelting plant on the fishing community in Tuticorin, amounts to gross mishandling by the Palaniswami Government in containing the situation and instead letting it fester as a political capital for vested interests to reap the harvest of. The Madras High Court order staying the opening of an additional plant at the site further exposes the state administration’s ineptitude of responding to a “people’s issue.” Protests at the site are not new and people have launched mass campaigns over the last decade on the plant’s polluting potential, forcing the company’s hand on compensation and compliance of new codes. The courts have intervened each time, stopping production lines till reparatory measures were implemented. The unit has had a patchy run, with groundwater contamination and gas leaks raising major concerns in a fragile ecosystem and Sterlite upping its input costs for curbing polluting streaks. But never was there any killing.
The fact that the police used assault rifles immediately after routine tear-gassing on an unarmed mob, didn’t follow protocol of using rubber pellets and a video implying that the police wanted to set an example by killing at least one protester prove that all democratic processes and the rule of law were subverted and the situation allowed to become flagrant. Given the nature of past protests, the state intelligence unit sure had some idea of people taking to the streets. The police should have taken steps to ensure peaceful assemblage and plug the descent into mindless vandalism. But from ground reports it appears that the police were under instruction to take a tough line regardless, to force an issue when it could be managed, to nail the Opposition but which backfired infamously. The Palaniswami Government should have been proactive considering the Opposition was coalescing around the protesters.
The Opposition DMK, which draws voting support from the fishermen community of Tuticorin, has now likened the firing to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. And with debutante politicians and star icons Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan throwing their heft behind the protesters for the last 100 days, the Government has clearly lost the script of public opinion. That doesn’t mean the Opposition is above board. The DMK, which is spearheading the cause and inciting affected protesters, should remember that it prioritised local economy over pollution hazards by not mouthing even an anti-Sterlite squeak when it was in power. As an Opposition, it is roaring to suit its advantage. The problem with politics of patronage in Tamil Nadu, largely a spillover from the Jayalalitha era, is that nobody has really addressed the issue of pollution seriously.
If Sterlite has been able to run what it has claimed to be one of the lowest cost input copper smelting units anywhere, it means the state pollution control board and green clearance authorities had blatantly turned their eye away from the consequences and the State Administration rushed through permits, even the new one, for added capacity. It has taken courts to assess the public health hazard that a unit of this nature can inflict over a long term in terms of complex respiratory diseases and cancer. Local politicians keep the plank floating in the seas, which they can grab on to for survival.
Courtesy: The Pioneer