What happened at Sterlite Copper in Tuticorin?
Sterlite Copper in Tuticorin is facing intense protests from the residents and environmentalist over its decision to double the capacity of its smelter from 400,000 to 800,000 tonnes per year. The protesters want the Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin shut as, they allege, it does not comply with environmental laws and dumps copper slag in river. The protesters claim that the plant is polluting ground water in their area. The agitators in Tuticorin have been going on for over 100 days but violence erupted on Tuesday after agitators went on the rampage, prompting an open fire from the police. So far, 11 people have been killed in the clash.
Why did the police open fire?
The state government on Tuesday said that its actions - baton charge and firing - were taken under 'unavoidable circumstances'. It claimed that about 20,000 protestors took out a procession towards the district collectorate and the copper plant with the intention of picketing them but later resorted to violence. "To bring the violence under control, under unavoidable circumstances, police had to take action. To maintain law and order additional police personnel have been sent to Tuticorin," the government said in a statement.
What are the environmental concerns related to the factory?
Environmentalists say that the Sterlite Copper's Tuticorin smelter is a major source of pollution. Ever since the company started its operations, it faced various cases from environmentalists. It is also claimed that the plant poses risk to the local fishing industry. In 2013, the National Green Tribunal had shutdown the operations in Tuticorin for over two months after residents complained of emissions that led to breathing problems.
Who is the owner of Sterlite Copper?
Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta Limited formerly known as Sesa Sterlite Limited/Sesa Goa Limited. Sterlite Copper consists of copper smelter, refinery, sulphuric acid plant, phosphoric acid plant, and copper rod plant at Tuticorin in southern India and a refinery and two Copper Rod plants at Silvassa in western India. The company operates a 400,000-tonne per annum capacity plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu.
What does Sterlite Copper say?
Sterlite Copper CEO P Ramnath in an interview to Business Today said that the protestors are under the wrong impression that the plant is polluting. In fact, the plant has been operating within all the specified parameters for the last several years, he said. "It is currently shut down as it is under regular maintenance. So, all the more, there was no reason for them to start this and there was no immediate trigger also since the plant was shut down for maintenance. Therefore clearly, they were incited into this by nefarious elements," Ramnath added.
What is the current status of Sterlite Copper's Tuticorin plant?
Sterlite Copper factory in Tuticorin district is currently non-functional and the company is awaiting approval from the authorities to resume operations at the site. The facility has been shut since March 27 when the company took up annual scheduled maintenance. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has rejected the company's application to renew the licence to operate the plant beyond March, 2018.
How will the shutdown of plant affect the industry?
The shutdown of the plant since April will cost dearly as it accounts for nearly 35 per cent of primary copper consumed within the country. Prices will rise and shortfall will have to be met with imports.
The Madras High Court today stayed the expansion plan of Sterlite Copper and ordered the company to stop construction of a new smelter with immediate effect. The Court further said that the application for renewal of environment clearance for copper smelter plant-2 project shall be decided by the competent authority on or before 23 September. In a separate development, the Central government has asked the state government to give the details of the incident at Tuticorin.