The political parties in Tamil Nadu have unanimously agreed to re-open the Sterlite Copper plant in the state for producing oxygen amid the dreadful oxygen crisis in treating Corona patients. Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country have been steering through the oxygen crisis amid combating the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dearth of oxygen and a flawed medical infrastructure had pushed the state to witness a grim challenge in addressing the health crisis.
As the state has been taking measures to tackle the oxygen crisis, Vedanta Limited had moved the petition to the Supreme Court and sought the directive to re-open its Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, that was closed in May 2018 in the wake of large-scale agitations and the police firing on the civilians that killed 13 people. The company had requested the court to re-open its copper plant under the guise of producing oxygen.
Last week, the Vedanta group had offered to supply oxygen from its closed Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu to address the oxygen shortage from its part. The company has written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, and the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary seeking their approval to re-open the plant. The company further said that the copper unit has two oxygen plants, which can produce 1,050 tonnes of oxygen daily.
Sterlite Copper CEO Pankaj Kumar has said that the company would like to use these facilities to prevent the shortage of oxygen in the country. Kumar penned, "We would be grateful to be allowed this opportunity to support the nation's needs. Our staff stand prepared to get these two plants operational in the shortest possible time and begin dispatching oxygen to critical areas as per your direction". Last week, the petition came to the hearing in the apex court during which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the Central government, had said that the plant can be re-opened to supply oxygen.
The apex court has asked the Tamil Nadu government why it can't undertake the management of the copper plant and produce oxygen. Based on the Supreme Court's advice, the Tamil Nadu government had decided to convene the all-party meeting to know the opinions of the parties to undertake the operations of the Sterlite Copper plant to produce oxygen. On the other hand, the Thoothukudi district administration has held a meet with the public over re-opening the plant. The public had voiced against the government and held protests against the re-opening of the plant.
On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government had convened the all-party meeting to discuss the matter. The meeting was chaired by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami while the leaders from the other parties had attended. Leaders including DMK MPs RS Bharathi and Kanimozhi and Tamil Nadu BJP President L Murugan had attended the meeting, which had lasted for 30 minutes during which the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary had spoken about re-opening the Sterlite Copper plant to produce oxygen.
According to reports, the all-party meeting had passed five resolutions unanimously today. In a surprising move, Tamil Nadu Opposition DMK had supported the government to re-open the Sterlite plant for the production of oxygen. The DMK delegation has said that the Sterlite unit can be granted permission temporarily to operate for oxygen production. The unit should not be operated for any other purpose including smelting copper. The DMK had demanded to set up a committee led by the district collector, health officials, activists, and the superintendent of police to oversee the production of oxygen.
The DMK further stated that the committee should have representatives of locals, anti-Sterlite protestors, and environmentalists and the permission for the plant should be granted for a specific period of time. The state opposition party has said that the oxygen produced at the Sterlite unit should be given free of cost to the Tamil Nadu people. MDMK Chief Vaiko, who was a staunch critic against Sterlite, had raised many eyebrows by backing the state government to re-open the copper plant to produce oxygen.
Vaiko said, "The Tamil Nadu government can take over the Sterlite unit to produce oxygen. It can also avail the required engineers from the public sector undertakings or the engineers of the Sterlite unit on a contract basis. The Sterlite management should never be allowed to operate on its own." The reports say that the all-party meeting led by the Chief Minister had passed a unanimous resolution to operate the Sterlite unit for oxygen production for four months.
BJP state president L Murugan has said that the re-opening of the Sterlite plant is a temporary arrangement. Following the all-party meeting where all the parties had endorsed the re-opening of the plant, the Tamil Nadu government has announced that the Sterlite Copper plant will be re-opened for four months only to produce oxygen. Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said that the government's motive is not to re-open the plant and it has been decided to re-open to produce oxygen. The oxygen production will be monitored by the committee of local representatives.
The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board has said that the Sterlite unit would be permitted to operate for four months to produce oxygen availing the power supplied by the government. As the Sterlite Copper plant is all set to open the gates after three years, the Thoothukudi district administration has deployed hundreds of police personnel to the plant and its vicinities for security reasons to prevent any untoward incidents that would emerge in the wake of the resumption.