The Sterlite Copper plant has been operating in violation of environmental norms since 1994. The plant is being run by Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, which is a subsidiary of the Londonbased mining giant Vedanta, since 1994. Despite public opposition and legal challenges, the plant has been allowed to function without obtaining the requisite Environmental Impact Assessments or without complying with air and water pollution norms. This has impacted the residents of Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu. Instances of environmental pollution caused by the plant date back to 1997, when 165 women working in a neighbouring factory fainted simultaneously due to sulphur dioxide poisoning from Sterlite Copper. Another toxic gas leak occurred in 2013 when emissions from the plant were at least double the permissible level. Collateral damage from the plant is not limited to the secondary effects of pollution alone. At least 17 workers in the plant have died so far due to hazardous and negligent working conditions, while many more have been gravely injured.
Protests against the plant intensified in April 2018 when a worker, who was maimed at the plant, attempted selfimmolation and yet another individual in Thoothukudi died of cancer. The most recent protests in 2018 are in response to Sterlite's expansion, also allegedly in violation of land and environmental regulations. Protesters decided to march to the District Collector's office to mark their 100th day of protest. It is reported that the workers and officials of the plant were aware of the planned protest, but the district administration in Thoothukudi imposed Section 144 in the area on the eve of the protests and opened fire on the crowd when they reached the District Collector's office.
A People's Inquest has revealed that on May 2223, 2018, at least 13 people protesting the expansion of the copper smelting plant were killed in police firing. Many more were injured. Young men in the village of Meelavittan near the Sterlite plant were harassed and arrested. Following this, the Tamil Nadu Government ordered the closure of the plant.
On November 27, a threemember committee formed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to probe the closure of the plant termed the closure unjustified and described the move as political. The NGT ordered the reopening of the plant. On February 18, 2019, however, the Supreme Court set aside the NGT's order and refused to allow the reopening of the plant.