Authorities shuttered a British-owned copper smelting plant in southern India on Monday, just days after 13 people were killed in a police crackdown on protests against the facility.
Edappadi K Palaniswami, the chief minister of the Indian state Tamil Nadu, ordered the closure of the 22-year-old plant, which is operated by Sterlite, a subsidiary of London-based Vedanta Resources, Reuters reports.
“We have taken a decision to permanently shut down the plant,” Palaniswami said.
The decision was celebrated by environmentalists and residents who have campaigned for more than two decades against the facility, citing air and water pollution.
The company operating the plant denies polluting. However, in 2013, following complaints of a gas leak and concerns over its emissions, the plant was fined 1 billion rupees ($18.4 million).
Muthu Pandi, a driver who joined the crowd of nearly 100 locals who came to see the plant being shut on Monday, told Reuters, “We are finally free.”
As the smelter’s main entrance was being sealed, Fatima Babu, a long-time campaigner, arrived shouting, “Thank you authorities.”
Since March, the smelter, which is India’s second-biggest, has been shut for maintenance. It was subsequently denied an operating license over failure to observe environmental regulations, but was scheduled to reopen in June with plans to double its capacity.
Instead, the 100 days of mostly peaceful protests against the planned expansion escalated last Tuesday when police opened fire on demonstrators marching toward a government office. Ten protesters died in that shooting, while three more died in the following days, prompting national and international outrage.
In a statement, Vedanta told Reuters it would have to study the order to close “and decide on the future course of action.”
The chief of Vedanta’s India copper business, P. Ramnath, told Reuters last week that the company would legally fight any attempt to shut down the plant