Leads on Sterlite issue
The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday stayed the expansion of Sterlite Copper’s industrial unit in Tuticorin, a day after 11 people were killed in police firing when a protest rally against the unit turned violent. The protest found support from a wide array of political parties, including a publicised visit by actor-turned- politician Kamal Haasan. So, why are the people protesting? Below is a broad outline of the issue:
The smelter, which can produce 400,000 tonnes of copper cathode a year, is run by Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit, which is controlled by Vedanta Ltd, a majority-owned subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta. The plant has been shut since March 27, when it was closed as part of a 15-day scheduled maintenance. The company plans to double capacity at the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year.
Pollution board action
During the closure, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board rejected Vedanta’s licence to operate the smelter in April, saying the company had not complied with local environmental laws. Sterlite has challenged the step. The appellate authority of the pollution board has adjourned the next hearing to June 6. The board has accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag in a river and not furnishing reports of groundwater analysis of borewells near the plant. This is not the first time the plant has shut down. It remained shut for weeks in 2013 due to a case at the National Green Tribunal.
Why are people against the smelter?
Residents have been demanding closure of the smelter for the past 100 days, and had announced they would take out a march to the Tuticorin District Collectorate on Tuesday. The district has been witnessing several protests by locals and others against the plant and its proposed expansion. Protesters have alleged that the smelter was polluting ground water in their area. An activist group has accused pollution board of allowing the company .
What the company says
P Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper has claimed that the plant had adhered to all conditions imposed by NEERI and the Supreme Court and its facilities would now conform to the benchmarks set by International Finance Corporation (IFC). Maintaining that the plant was not a polluter, the company had offered to open its gates “for people to see for themselves than believe rumours and half-truths.” The activists, however, turned down the offer, saying the problem was not what happened inside the factory but the pollution it caused outside.
Those who want the plant to run
The Tuticorin Stevedores’ Association, which handles manual cargo at the V O Chidambaranar Port Trust in Tuticorin, has appealed to the chief minister to take steps to resume copper production at the plant. TSA president T Velsankar says that Sterlite was the single-largest private company handling a consistent annualised volume of about 38 lakh metric tonnes of cargo. The association says the closure of the plant has affected the livelihood of thousands of freight operators, drivers and workers in related industries. Chemical Industries Association and Winding Wire Manufacturers Association have also opposed closure of the plant, saying it would adversely impact thousands of workers as well as small factories that depend on the plant for their business.
Copper prices shoot up
Closure of the plant has led to a spike in copper prices. The plant has the capacity to produce 4 lakh tonnes of copper per year. It has a share of about 35 per cent in the India’s primary copper market and exports mainly to Gulf and Asian countries. India’s copper consumption has been increasing consistently over the last few years. At current local demand growth of 7 per cent to 8 per cent per year, India may turn into a net importer of copper by the year ended March 2020 if no new plant is commissioned, consultancy firm ICRA Ltd said in an April