The plant was sealed by the state following the violence that broke out during the anti-Sterlite rally in Thoothukudi on May 22 in 2018. According to JP Joe Villavarayar, former president, Tuticorin Ship Agents Association, the entire country is battling the second wave of COVID-19 and cases of people vulnerable to the coronavirus continues unabated day after day and thousands of infected patients were badly in need of oxygen support in most hospitals. Therefore, the production of oxygen in Sterlite was a necessity.
The state should cooperate with the Centre to allow Sterlite to produce oxygen to cater to the daily growing needs of patients battling with coronavirus. The oxygen generation from the plant could be effected by conditions by the government for a certain period of time. The Vedanta’s unit has the capacity to generate up to 1,000 tonnes of oxygen per day.
M Krishnamurthi, a resident of Thoothukudi, who took part in the anti-Sterlite protest, said there is no oxygen scarcity at all and the Tamil Nadu government has clarified it. But the Centre, which he said, is supporting crony capitalism and acting in favour of Vedanta’s Sterlite is attempting to exploit the current crisis and allow the copper smelter to resume operations.
The smelter plant was being locked and sealed for three years now. It would be a risk to reopen the plant to produce oxygen all of a sudden, he cautioned.
K Nehru Prakash, president, Thoothukudi District Tiny and Small Scale Industries Association (THUDITSSIA), said without any delay oxygen production should resume from the plant to save innumerable lives of people living with COVID. It would be a timely help from Sterlite to provide required amount of oxygen to the needy. The government should also make the locals understand the crisis, he added.
M Mahesh from Kumareddiyapuram village in Thoothukudi, another protester, said while India is the largest producer of oxygen, large amount of the life-saving gas could be generated from big industries in Gujarat and other states. Further, he asked how India could export several tonnes of oxygen to countries abroad when our country was facing a massive shortage.