With political parties and groups at both the Centre and in Tamil Nadu politicising the unrest that has gripped Tuticorin following the deaths of 13 people in relation to the long-running protests against the Sterlite Copper smelting unit, Republic TV has accessed explosive documents that reveal the truth about the industrial unit in question.
While Rahul Gandhi and his party, along with the entire Opposition, has tried to pin the blame of this industrial project in Tuticorin on the Narendra Modi-led government, official documents accessed now establish the UPA’s hand in giving back-to-back clearances and approvals to the project between 2007 and 2012.
Six separate documents and recorded endorsements, as well as two press releases, make clear that it was the UPA which between the years 2007 and 2012 -- spanning two governments -- gave its backing to the project despite repeated concerns, once even telling Parliament that there was no need for a public hearing on the matter.
The first approval came on March 30, 2007, when the UPA’s Environment Ministry cleared a proposal for the setting up of a 2x60 MW coal based captive power plant to meet the power requirement of the unit.
The second approval followed just a few months later on August 9, 2007, when the Environment Ministry gave its clearance to an expansion (de-bottlenecking) proposal for the Copper Smelter, writing 'MoEF accords environmental clearance.'
The third approval came about 1.5 years later on January 1, 2009, when the Ministry gave a fresh Environment clearances to Sterlite for an expansion.
The fourth backing came just a little over a year later on March 10, 2010, when Jairam Ramesh, then MoS in the Environment Ministry, said in response to a question on Pollution in Tuticorin' in the Lok Sabha that 'No serious charge has been levelled against Sterlite'.
The fifth backing came on August 11, 2010, when Jairam Ramesh in response to a query in the Lok Sabha asking "whether the Government gave environment clearance to the Sterlite Industries to double its capacity without undertaking any public hearing as is the rule" said that clearance had been given to the unit as per procedure laid out in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.
The sixth backing came almost two years later on July 7, 2012, when the Environment ministry gave its sanction for additional construction at the plant.
The documents and responses in Parliament, as well as two press releases by the then Commerce Ministry that have been accessed by Republic TV, often to direct questions about alleged pollution caused by the Sterlite project, put on record the complicity of the Congress-led UPA to the industrial project’s mega growth in Tuticorin.
Despite this, the Congress, its president Rahul Gandhi, and its ally in the UPA, the CPI(M), continue to politicise the matter, pinning blame for the events in Tuticorin on the current NDA government.
However, Republic TV has also ascertained the extent of the current government's backing for the plant. On March 2, 2016, the Environment Ministry, based on the recommendations of an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), had extended the validity of the Environmental clearance given by the UPA on January 1, 2009, up till December 31, 2018.
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