The maintenance work will include operations such as removal of remaining gypsum and leachate handling operations among others. Based on this, the district administration has now allowed the firm to maintain the plant after five years.
Five years after the closure of its Thoothukudi unit following an order issued by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper finally got access to the plant on Friday for upkeep works.
This comes after a three-member Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, in April allowed Sterlite Copper to carry out maintenance.
The upkeep work will include operations such as removal of remaining gypsum and leachate handling operations among others. Based on this, the district administration has now allowed the firm to maintain the plant after five years.
“We are happy to note that the district administration, in accordance with the Supreme Court directive, has released orders to start some of the upkeep work at the Sterlite plant. This will allow us to engage local contractors and offer jobs to some people in Thoothukudi,” the company said in a statement. “We are thankful to the state and have full faith in the judiciary that appropriate support will be extended and decisions taken to ensure the welfare and progress of people of Thoothukudi and India,” he added.
Production at the plant has been suspended since 2018, after protests broke out against the firm’s plan to double its annual capacity to 800,000 tonnes. Subsequent police firing caused the death of 13 people and injured 102. At the peak of the pandemic last April, the Supreme Court allowed the firm to produce oxygen for medical purposes.
According to industry sources, the net loser of the closure was the Indian economy. From being a net exporter of copper in 2017-18, India is now an importer. The plant used to produce about 40 per cent of India’s copper demand and contributed about Rs 2,500 crore to the exchequer, 12 per cent of the Thoothukudi port’s revenue, and 95 per cent market share of sulphuric acid in Tamil Nadu.
Though the company was allowed to produce oxygen from the plant during Covid, no maintenance work was allowed.
In April, the ministry of home affairs had informed the Rajya Sabha that it was examining complaints against certain NGOs for misusing foreign funds to organise protests around the Vedanta Sterlite copper plant. During the hearing, the upkeep of the plant was supported by a lawyer appointed by the non-governmental organisations, representing nine panchayats, 13 coastal sangams (associations), suppliers and downstream units.