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Behind the deadly Tuticorin affair: Centre tweaked rules to help Vedanta avoid public hearing

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Behind the deadly Tuticorin affair: Centre tweaked rules to help Vedanta avoid public hearing

When local opposition to Vedanta owned Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi (earlier ‘Tuticorin’) exploded in an aggressive protest leading to violence and police firing which took 13 lives, Madras High Court stayed the expansion of the plant and ordered it to go for a public hearing. The company claimed it was not a legal requirement.

Some reports after this revealed that this was because the rules had been tweaked by the Centre to favour Vedanta.

While the Tamil Nadu government has been facing the ire for police action and is accused of favouring Vedanta, it is the UPA and then the Modi government which changed laws and tweaked rules for the company. The Modi government went to new lengths – we shall come back to it later here.

To begin with, said a report in The Economic Times (ET), Sterlite Industries was allowed by both the UPA and NDA governments to construct the copper smelter in Tuticorin without carrying out the mandated public hearing process.

The plant was first given the green signal by the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee in 2008, when the United Progressive Alliance was in power, the ET report said.

In 2008, Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries Limited had sought exemption from public consultation. The 2006 Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Rules state: “All Category ‘A’ and Category B1 projects or activities shall undertake public consultation, except… all projects or activities located within industrial estates or parks.”

Copper smelter plants fall under category A. However, Sterlite Industries sought for an exemption to this rule in 2008, stating that the smelter was located within an industrial park.

According to the report, the industrial park in question was not granted environmental clearance as the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) industrial park was developed before the notification of the Environmental Impact Assessment rules. As the 2006 Environment Impact Assessment rules do not cover industrial parks which did not receive environmental clearance, officials quoted in the report say that this was the grey area where Sterlite brought forward its plea.

The project got the clearance in 2008, but was held up for five years as the environmental clearance process was challenged in court.

The government changed and Modi government took charge. It ‘resolved’ the issue in December 2014 when the environment ministry stated in a memorandum that an exemption of projects from public consultation “is available to the projects or activities or units located in industrial estates or parks, which were notified prior to September 14, 2006, i.e EIA notification coming into force”.

The memorandum was struck down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2016, but not before Sterlite secured a five-year extension on its environmental clearance for its expansion project.

This helped plants such as the one at Thoothukudi to be constructed without taking the people of the affected area into confidence.

This move enabling the existing rules to be passed was done through mere orders from ministry which called it a ‘clarification’. In effect, laid down notified regulations under the law were re-interpreted by a mere executive order in the name of providing a ‘clarification’ to the industry.

This allowed Vedanta and other industries who made pleas, to go ahead with their projects without holding discussions with the public, said a report in The Business Standard (BS).

This interpretation by the NDA government came an a bonanza for companies because the environment ministry under UPA government had insisted in May 2014 that projects such as Vedanta’s in Thoothukudi were required by law to first go through public consultations, the BS report said.

The NDA government reversed this position in December 2014 and in March 2015 the environment ministry extended Vedanta’s environmental clearance till December 2018. This it did even while the question of the need for public hearing by projects in different kinds of industrial parks was being contested in the courts. This allowed the company to carry out construction.

In 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruled as illegal the December orders of the NDA government, which favoured Vedanta. Ministry officials maintained that annulling the government’s December 2014 orders would severely affect several projects, but the NGT eventually quashed the orders and on its directions, the ministry passed fresh orders expressly stating that projects in industrial parks without environmental clearances needed to hold public hearings.

But by then, Vedanta had already got an extension of the green clearance to its expansion project in Thoothukudi without having a public hearing and construction was on way, the report says. Soon, protests started.  Before the May 22 violence, protests had been on for 100 days.

It is on the basis of the 2016 ruling of the NGT that the court has ordered Vedanta to halt the project and go back to the public to hold consultations.

This brings us the the point mentioned earlier. The background to the Centre-Vedanta involves another aspect: that of political funding by corporate houses, especially foreign funding.

In March 2014, the Delhi High Court had held both the Congress and the BJP guilty of illegally receiving contributions from British mining and energy conglomerate Vedanta.

The Congress and the BJP separately challenged the ruling. After the BJP came to power, it amended a law with retrospective effect, making the alleged illegal foreign funds that the two parties received legal and nullifying the high court order.

The Representation of People’s Act, which lays down the rules for elections, bars political parties from accepting foreign funds. Modi government changed it by bringing in alterations through Finance Bill which cannot be stopped by Rajya Sabha. First, in the Finance Bill 2016, the Modi government amended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to make it easier for parties to accept foreign funds. In 2018, it amended it further to do away with the scope for scrutiny of political parties’ funding since 1976.

This enables the BJP to get funds from foreign companies such as Vedanta without being subjected to scrutiny or having to reveal the source or the amount.

Book reviews

The Hill Of Enchantment Review: Ruskin Bond revisits his life as writer

The book not only delineates Ruskin Bond’s journey as a writer but also depicts the changing literary landscape from the 1950s to recent times.

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The Hill Of Enchantment Review: Ruskin Bond revisits his life as writer

India’s most loved and prolific writer from the hill, who wrote his first book when he was around 17, Ruskin Bond, turned 90 this year. In his seven decade literary journey, the author has written more than 500 novels, short stories, and poems set mostly in the hills and mountains of India. 

The Hill Of Enchantment published by Aleph Book Company, is a memoir of his writing journey, with the subtitle, the story of my life as a writer. Bond revisits the people, mountains, railway stations, rooms, and markets that shaped him as an author. He says, characters in his novels and short stories are mostly inspired by the people he met in his life. The author confesses that some characters also portray his adopted family, friends and colleagues. 

Expressing that if a writer wishes to create a little magic with his pen he must find a little magic in his life, Ruskin Bond shares that he only has to open his window to see a magical world – clouds racing across the sky. In the book, the author mentioned how Pari Tibba, Fairy Hill, which he could see from his window, and solitude has influenced his books.

In The Hill of Enchantment, Ruskin Bond pens about how his need for privacy and solitude have inspired his first work, The Room on the Roof, published in 1956. He also portrayed how his frequent visits to a railway station led to the story, Time Stops At Shamli and others. Sharing an anecdote, Bond wrote that his frequent visits to railway stations made him so popular, just like a coolie, he did not have to buy a platform ticket to sit at the railway station.

The book also highlights the ordeal of Indian writers in the days dating back to 1950s to get published as compared to modern writers. It pointed out the change in the literary scene in the twenty-first century, which brought literary festivals along with online forums for writers and publishers. The author says, “writers were becoming faces and mini celebrities”. 

Ruskin Bond’s book not only delineates his journey as a writer but also stresses on the changing literary landscape from 1950s to recent times. The book is an utter testament for the aspiring writers. 

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Amit Shah claims NDA has already got 310 seats after 5 phases of Lok Sabha elections

Shah was addressing 2 election rallies in Sambalpur where the BJP has fielded Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

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Amit Shah claims NDA has already got 310 seats after 5 phases of Lok Sabha elections

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday claimed that the NDA has already bagged 310 seats after the completion of 5 phases of the Lok Sabha polls. He urged the people of Odisha to free the state from babu-raj and allow the BJP to form government at the Centre and also in the state.  Shah was addressing 2 election rallies in Sambalpur where the BJP has fielded Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Shah claimed after the 5th phase of elections, the NDA has already got 310 seats and they will secure 400 plus seats after the 6th and 7th rounds of elections. The union home minister added that Odisha has been ruled by a handful of officers and this election will end the ongoing babu raj in the state.

He said that the tribals of Keonjhar get no benefit even though most of the mines and mineral reserves of the country are located in Keonjhar district. Shah enlisted Modi government’s achievements and said that the prime minister has ensured that there is no terrorism across the country. He added that PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) was with India and it would remain with India.

Shah criticized Congress of being frightened over Pakistan possessing an atom bomb and said PM Modi has given a befitting reply to Pakistan’s terror activities and he does not fear such threat of nuclear bombs. He attacked the previous Congress government for doing nothing for tribals. Shah pointed out that former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had formed a separate ministry for tribal affairs while Narendra Modi as the PM has worked to eliminate Naxalism in Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The Union Home Minister said PM Modi has constituted District Mineral Foundation and given crores of rupees for the development of the tribal region. Shah said the budgetary allocation for tribal affairs has been increased to Rs 1.25 lakh crore during Modi government from Rs 25,000 crore given during the previous UPA regime.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Congress accuses PM Modi of communal campaigning, questions his silence on key issues like caste census, reservations

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh’s attack came over Modi’s remarks in an interview to the media in which he had said that he has never uttered a word against minorities, and the BJP has not just today but never acted against them.

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Congress accuses PM Modi of communal campaigning, questions his silence on key issues like caste census, reservations

The Congress on Tuesday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been indulging in polarisation throughout the election and has prepared a communal pitch, but Congress refused to play on that and pursued its paach nyay agenda. Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh’s attack came over Modi’s remarks in an interview to the media in which he had said that he has never uttered a word against minorities, and the BJP has not just today but never acted against them.

Jairam Ramesh said that PM Modi’s entire campaign from April 19 has been based on communalisation with the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric throughout and has not talked about Viksit Bharat, issues of the farmers, Modi ki guarantee, women, youth workers, SCs, STs and OBCs.

Speaking about the remarks made by PM Modi on minorities, Ramesh said what nonsense was he talking about?  He further added the prime minister is fast losing his memory and he has never had any adherence to truth. Ramesh called PM Modi a jhoothjeevi and said PM Modi does not remember what he said the day before and then claims that he never said it.

Ramesh said the prime minister had raised the issue of Muslim League imprint on the Congress manifesto, the mangalsutra remarks and the allegation that the Congress will give reservations on the basis of religion, which are all bogus statements.

He said this is the prime minister who, when asked some years ago whether he had any remorse at the killings during the Gujarat riots, said even when a small puppy comes under a car, one feels bad. This is the language that he had been using. Ramesh claimed that when Atal Bihari Vajapayee became the prime minister, L K Advani and company wanted a committee to review the basic structure of the Constitution. Ramesh said Congress boycotted that commission and this has always been the objective of the BJP and the RSS.

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