26th January 2015. Just five days before January’s Sri Lankan Presidential elections former Minister of Power and Energy Champika Ranawaka dropped a bombshell, accusing Mahinda Rajapaska’s government of failing to collect $7 billion in inflated share value from Cairn Energy – the first oil company to discover gas in the Mannar basin. His firey argument (aimed at shaming the then incumbent President) was that mineral exploration rights had been sold to British oil company Cairn Energy for a song following meetings between Rajapaksa and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (who was a school friend of Cairn Energy boss Bill Gammell) in 2006. In 2011, after gas was discovered in their Mannar block – SL 2007-01-001, the value of shares skyrocketed and Cairn Energy sold them on at a highly inflated value to Vedanta Resources, a British-Indian company, who bought Cairn Energy’s South Asian oil and gas subsidiary Cairn India, assisted by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.
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Street vendors hide their faces from the gas leak last weekend
Shops, restaurants, taxi ranks and autorickshaws have shut shop in Thoothkudi, Tamil Nadu, today in a bandh (shutdown) called by members of the Anti-Sterlite People’s Struggle Committee demanding permanent closure of Sterlite’s Copper smelter. According to reports only a few medical shops and others selling essentials remain open, and police have been deployed around the town.
Residents have shut their town in response to last week’s Supreme Court order which allowed Vedanta’s Sterlite plant to continue operating but pay 100 crore rupee ($2 million) compensation for environmental violations including a major gas leak on 23rd March. Residents say there is no price for their health and safety and demand the plant is closed.
Following mass rallies after a major gas leak last weekend Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Tamil Nadu has been closed until further notice. On Tuesday (2nd April) the fate of the plant will be decided once and for all in the Supreme Court. This news note is from Nityanand Jayaraman;
30 March, 2013 — The Tamil Nadu Government has relented to public pressure and shut down Sterlite Industries’ copper complex today. According to a worker, officials from 10 government departments arrived by the vanload in the plant last night at 8 p.m. The management then called a meeting of all staff and workers, and announced that the plant was shutting down. Sterlite requested time till about 12 midnight for phased closure, and this was conceded by the Government. By 1210 a.m. all plants except the smelter were shut down. Electricity connection to the copper complex has been disconnected.
Thousands of residents of the coastal Tamil Nadu town of Thoothukudi are preparing for mass action tomorrow (28th March) following a major gas leak from Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelting plant at Tuticorin this weekend. On Saturday 23rd March a toxic chemical gas thought to be sulphur dioxide spilled from the plant and caused coughing, burning sensations and suffocation for hundreds of people for kilometers around. Leaves withered on trees in the area. On 25th March a 35 year old Sterlite worker who had been in the factory’s captive power plant at the time of the leak succumbed to the effects of gas exposure and died of suffocation.
In response local political leader Vaiko has called for a mass rally tomorrow at Sterlite’s gates calling for immediate closure of the plant. Demonstrations have already been held at the District Collector’s office and the factory gates.
There have been three hazardous incidents and at least two deaths at Sterlite’s Tuticorin plant this month alone, on top of tens of workers deaths recorded during the plant’s operation. 16 deaths were recorded between 2007 and 2011, though most of these were covered up by police and Sterlite officials and who registered the deaths as suicides.