On May 22 last year, in Thootikudi, 13 people died and several were injured when the Tamil Nadu police fired on a large crowd protesting against the expansion of a copper-smelting plant owned by Vedanta group firm Sterlite.
To mark the first anniversary, various organisations will hold rallies and meetings in the port city. The authorities have stepped up their efforts to maintain law and order in the district by deploying a contingent of 2,500 police personnel. The district administration is also holding meetings with the police officials in this matter, said a senior police official.
He added that things were under control.
"There is a memorial meeting organised in a hotel. Since the anniversary happens to fall on a day before the poll results, a lot of focus is on that," said David, an autorickshaw driver from Milavettan, a residential area close to the Sterlite facility.
The demonstrators wanted the copper facility to be closed down. They alleged that the plant was hazardous, which the company denied.
The plant was shut down in March 2018 for routine maintenance for two months; however, in May, the Tamil Nadu state government passed an order to permanently shut down the unit. This was passed in the aftermath of the protests.
Though the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had set aside the state government's order to close the Thoothikudi plant, the Supreme Court (SC), this year, had set aside the NGT order. Hence, the plant remains non-operational. The case is currently pending in Madras High Court.
The closure of the plant resulted in a loss of Rs 409 crore in 2018-19 as against profit of Rs 905 crore, a year ago. Revenue from copper dropped to Rs 6,833 crore in 2018-19 from Rs 21,253 crore in 2017-18 for the Vedanta’s copper business.
The 400,000 metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) production capacity copper smelter is the largest copper producer in the country. A business unit of Vedanta Ltd, Sterlite had been contributing nearly 3.3 per cent of Tamil Nadu's GDP and 44 per cent of country's copper production. It also provided direct employment to around 3,500 people while offering employment to another 20,000 indirectly.
“The prolonged closure has had a significant negative impact, not just on our bottom line, but also on Tamil Nadu and nation as a whole. The cascading effect of the closure, manifested through widespread unemployment and increased costs for downstream industries, has been immense. Industry reports have already indicated a sharp rise in imports and fall in exports," said Pankaj Kumar, CEO, Sterlite Copper recently. The opportunity cost is very high as well, in terms of the damage to the state’s image as a preferred investment destination and lost contributions to the Exchequer.
"However, we continue to repose complete faith in our justice system. We reiterate that we are a compliant company, having consistently sustained the same through various HSE interventions, and are therefore hopeful of a favourable hearing in the coming days," he added.
The chemical industry, electrical manufacturing industry and even some of the fertiliser manufacturers in the region were affected due to the closure, as it has impacted prices and availability of raw materials, said industry sources. The employees of Sterlite and its affiliate industries, including the trucks, which used to carry material in and out of the factory, has been affected because of the closure, says the company and other industries.
A total (annual) turnover of Rs 600 billion is affected as over 400 businesses, many from first-generation entrepreneurs faced closure with the shutdown of Sterlite Copper. Several chemical and fertiliser companies were getting sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid at a low rate from the company as a byproduct of refining copper.
Ravi Sehgal, chief of Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) had earlier told the media that the loss could be to the tune of $3 billion this fiscal year. And there is also a fear of rising imports of inferior or hazardous quality of copper scrap. With its closure, exports of the metal and its products fell by as much as 61 per cent to $127.43 million in March (FY19) compared to the corresponding month last year (FY18). Also, cumulative exports dropped by 69.4 per cent to $1.06 billion for the entire 2018-19 financial year (FY19), he was quoted.