Tuticorin factory currently non-operational: Sterlite Copper

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The panel will be headed by retired Judge Aruna Jagadeesan.

The Madras High Court's Madurai bench on Wednesday stayed the ongoing construction of a new copper smelter by Sterlite industries in Thoothukudi.

Union Home Ministry officials said the ministry is in touch with the state government over the developments in the port town in the southern state. Residents have alleged that the factory is contaminating the region's air and water resources.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary and Director general of police (DGP) over police firing during the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi that claimed 11 lives. They said pollutants from the Sterlite plant have caused breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer.

The rally, in which thousands of local people participated under the banner of "Anti Sterlite Movement", turned violent with sections of protesters setting fire to vehicles, including those belonging to the police. Several protestors were injured.

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It's thus clear that the district administration was literally driven by the court to issue the 144 order, while the subsequent ground reports and Tuesday's eruption prove further that there has not been any matching response from the administration to the impending threat that even a judge of the high court, sitting in his chamber was able to spot by merely looking at the pamphlets of the protesting outfits long in circulation.

Sterlite Copper released a statement expressing "sorrow and regret" at the incidents during the protest on Tuesday. Sterlite said the facility has been shut since March 27 when the company took up annual scheduled maintenance. Sterlite Copper, which now operates a 400,000-tonne per annum unit in the city, maintains it has received necessary permits and has not violated any norms. He said, "Tamil Nadu Government's inaction is responsible for the violence in Tuticorin".

One of the demonstrations is being led by actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan, along with the cadres of his political party Makkal Niedhi Maiam.

He said police had been forced to act "since protesters disregarded a curfew, acted against the advice of police", and indulged in violence.