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Sterlite's Tuticorin plant reopens

The 85-day closure resulted in a revenue loss of Rs 4,000 crore, says the company

T E Narasimhan  |  Chennai 

After a gap of nearly three months, Vedanta Group’s Sterlite factory at Tuticorin, in the southern part of Tamil Nadu, has started production in the backdrop of continuing allegation, by the anti-Sterlite campaigners.

For the $15 billion Group, the recent National Green Tribunal (NGT’s) order is a breather from the issues including the problem in securing bauxite for its alumina refinery at Odhisa state
“The sudden closure was a shock was ” expressed P Ramnath, chief executive officer, Sterlite Copper, subsidiary of Vedanta Resources.

Around Rs 4,000 crore was the revenue loss due to the 85 day long shut down of the facility, said company officials.

The factory in Tamil Nadu, which supplies 45% of country’s Copper requirement, was closed after the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had alleged that the factory had emissions beyond permissible levels.

However the company denied the allegations and took up the matter with NGT, during which it stated that it has invested around Rs 500 crore on environmental control measures and the company claims this plant will soon become a benchmark for copper smelters across the World,

This is over and above the Rs 2,500 crore invested in the factory till now.

On March 29th the factory was asked to close after the Board and district administration received complaints from few residents of Tuticorin. They complained that they had some discomfort during breathing and eye irritation

The matter went to the NGT, which gave a clean chit to the company based on the Expert Committee’s report. The committee was appointed by NGT comprising of two professors of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras and Member Secretaries of CPCBand TNPCB.

On July 15, this year, NGT’s order said, “…..this report does not indicate that the Appellant company (Sterlite) of being a pollutant or prudent polluter or otherwise. Upon stack sampling or ambient air quality monitoring, it is not being found that the industry was emitting SO2 gas or substances which were in violation to the prescribed standards. Since the Appellant company is neither an existing pollutant nor is a threat of future pollution (not violating prescribed standards) resulting in health hazards, we see no reason to vary our Interim Order dated 31st May, 2013”.

Asked about the 25 directions given in the report, Ramnath said, seven of them are pertaining not only for Sterlite but also for other industries in Tuticorin, , another six directions are related to training the people in quality which is ongoing and the rest would be done over the next few months.

These include relocating Air quality monitor system, connecting it to TNPCB’s and creating green belts in few areas.

There are misconceptions about Sterlite. For instance, there is a misconception that Sterlite discharges waste water into the sea, while the fact is that this is the only copper smelter in the World which is zero discharge, claims Ramnath.

Once in a week factory doors are open for general public to visit the plant, says Ramnath.

But the anti-Sterlite protestors do not seem to be convinced. Similarly, the TNPCB, which has now moved to the Supreme Court against NGT’s Order stating that the Tribunal does not have power to pass any Order, considering the Board itself has an Appellate Board. But Sterlite argued that the Board had set up the Appellate Board after the company moved to NGT.

Way forward

Ramnath said that NGT’s final order is expected soon and the company is hopeful to progress on its expansion plans. The company's contribution to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Tamil Nadu will increase to 4.5% from current 3.3%. The company currently contributes Rs 1,800 crore to the exchequer Currently the company is ranked as fifth largest in the State in terms of turnover, with a turnover of around Rs 19,000 crore, he added.

First Published: Wed, July 24 2013. 20:30 IST
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