Sterlite’s Copper Smelting Plant at Tuticorin- Illegal for Sterlite to sell the occupied land which should revert to the original agricultural owners
Shri M. K. Stalin
Dear Shri Stalin,
I understand that the Sterlite company of the Vedanta Group has proposed to sell its Copper Smelter plant at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
It is ironic that the company should now resort to such a diversionary step, after polluting the surroundings with toxic contaminants, adversely affecting the health of the people and after the affected people were forced to agitate, instead of showing remorse, the company should choose to pressurise the local authorities to resort to coercive action against the agitated people. It is only after judicial intervention that the affected people could get some relief.
It is equally unfortunate that the Union Ministry of Environment should remain inactive when such plants wantonly contaminated the environment and caused irreparable damage to the health of the people.
The State government should commission an independent enquiry to determine the social cost of the operations of the plant in terms of the adverse health impacts so that the company is obligated to compensate each and every family affected by it over a long period of time.
Further, it is reported (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/metals-mining/copper-plant-sale-offer-diversionary-says-anti-sterlite-group-in-tamil-nadu/articleshow/92343007.cms) that the land where the plant is situated was used for agricultural purposes by the people, before it was acquired decades ago by the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT).
It is most likely that the land was originally acquired under the erstwhile land acquisition legislation of 1894 in which case, the acquisition was made on the specific ground that the lands were meant for a “public purpose”, a term defined under that law ]Section 3(f)(iv) of the 1894 Act) as ” the provision of land for a corporation owned or controlled by the State;”.
In other words, when the land was acquired forcibly at that time, the commitment given by the State government to the original owners was that such statutory acquisition was being made, exclusively for a “public purpose”, which had no meaning other than that the land would be used by a company wholly owned or controlled by the State”. Therefore, in the first instance, it was grossly illegal for the then government to have allowed the land to be used by a private company like the Sterlite company. Therefore, the land transfer to Sterlite in the first instance should be deemed null and void.
Against this background, I feel that the State government should take back the land in question and preferably hand it over back to the original owners.
I hope that the State government, considering the havoc that was created by the company and the gross human rights violations that followed as a result of it, immediately orders reversion of the lands to the government. Considering that the earlier governments had committed a breach of trust when they allowed the land to be transferred from SIPCOT account to Sterlite, it would be in order for the present government to hand over the land to its original owners.
The State government should ensure that the Sterlite company compensates every affected family for the way it has caused irreparable damage to their health over a long period of time.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt of India