India: copper ore factory shut down as police kill protesters

Thousands of people march through Thoothukudi
Thousands of people march through Thoothukudi in March 2018, via Twitter
Andrew Metheven

After many years of campaigning by local activists, the Sterlite copper plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been permanently shut down by local officials, days after 13 people were killed by police gun fire, and over 100 injured during protests that turned violent on 23rd May. One police officer was filmed firing live bullets from the top of a bus.

The shooting took place during a protest involving tens of thousands of local people, the culmination of of a three-month wave of peaceful protests in the city of Thoothukudi against the site, which were due to end on 21st May. Businesses closed their doors in solidarity with the protests, some protesters took part in indefinite fasts, and solidarity actions took place in London.

Over two decades, local people have campaigned and protested against the Sterlite factory. One of the first actions against the site include a fishing boat blockade - the site is alongside a river - which prevented two Australian boats unloading copper ore. Local villagers believed that the plant - which has been operating for two decades - was responsible for health problems including high rates of cancer, skin problems and breathing difficulties. The Guardian reported that 10 years ago, a study by a Tirunelveli medical college found people living close to the plant "had higher rates of asthma, bronchitis, and ear, nose and throat infections, and that iron levels in their groundwater were up to 20 times higher than acceptable limits". In 2016, the company had requested to double the capacity of the site, rekindling wide-spread local anger.

Sterlite is a London-listed subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, with most of it's business occurring in India. It's most recent half year profits were $1.7bn.

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