Vedanta Group company Sterlite Copper says it expects to re-start its copper plant at Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu (600 km from here) in the next two months, subject to various clearances and procedures.
The unit has been shut since March 27, first for maintenance and then due to orders from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). Last Thursday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) set aside the state government’s later order to permanently close the unit, as not legally justified. Instead, it directed the Board to issue an order of renewal, subject to findings in three weeks, and asked the state government to restore electricity for the unit’s operation.
Earlier, the state had said it would challenge the NGT order at the Supreme Court. The firm said it had been requesting the state to allocate another 300 acres for overall development of a green belt around the factory, and also for a second unit. The latter would, it said, attract Rs 25-30 billion in investment. “We expect it would take two months, once we get entry into the plant. We will have to start every machine and assess the works required, and get the plant back into shape,” said P Ramnath, chief executive office of Sterlite.
Around Rs 30 billion was spent on establishing the plant, which catered to 35-40 per cent of copper demand in India. Prices of copper in the country had risen by around 20 per cent following the closure, the company had told NGT.
The estimated production loss from closure has been around 30,000 tonnes of refined copper. Around 25,000 families were allegedly affected, as were downstream industries, he said. The company says its estimated daily loss has been around Rs 50 million. It has also pointed to a surge in prices of the products from there — sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid and copper — in the period. Import of copper had jumped, it says, from around 12,000 tonnes to 30,000 tonnes a month.
On Thursday, the company announced it would set up a hospital and a school in the district, and supply water to 15 villages, as part of Rs 1 billion to be spent for welfare of inhabitants in the region, as mentioned in the NGT order. The Tribunal has directed Vedanta to spend the amount over three years — it had been suggested by the latter during the hearing.
The background is a series of protests by locals at pollution from the unit and the death of 13 persons in police firing during related violence (on May 22).
The company has also announced the planting of a million trees and a youth development scheme that includes employment, sports and entrepreneurship.
It has also implemented measures the judiciary suggested in a 2013 order, including a system to register emission levels, air quality systems and interlocks which would stop the entire manufacturing if sulphur dioxide emissions exceed permissible limits. The company has spent Rs 5-6 billion on implementing safety measures in the recent past, said the CEO.
The state government had said the unit should be closed for breaching environmental rules. It had alleged Sterlite did not present groundwater analysis reports or removed copper slag stored around the Uppar river or analysed parameters of heavy metals in the ambient air quality around the unit. The NGT rejected all these grounds.