‘We were exporting copper at that time. Now India is importing copper to the tune of around $1.2 billion. Moreover, there was a larger impact on the dependent MSMEs.’
Days after reports appeared that there was alleged foreign intervention in the Foxconn protests at Sriperumbudur, Sterlite Copper on Thursday said there were possible 'external forces' active at Thoothukudi, prior to the firing that killed 13 and left 102 injured in May 2018.
"There were external forces at work, and not from Thoothukudi itself. The matter is under investigation by the government," said Sumathi Angusamy, chief operating officer, Sterlite Copper, adding, "We are seeing repeat stories in Tamil Nadu. The latest could be Foxconn."
Earlier this week, there were media reports, quoting an intelligence note that suspected a possible Chinese hand in the protests that happened at the Foxconn unit on December 17, 2021, after 159 people were hospitalised due to food poisoning at one of its hostels.
Sterlite Copper claimed that the production halt at its Thoothukudi unit had led to a loss of over $1.2 billion. "We were exporting copper at that time. Now India is importing copper to the tune of around $1.2 billion. Moreover, there was a larger impact on the dependent micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs)," said Angusamy.
Around 120,000 people were affected due to the closure. Around 400 MSMEs were affected as they were dependent upon products like copper, sulphuric acid, and fluorosilicic acid. In 2016-17, India exported copper worth $1.8 billion, while it now incurs a net foreign exchange outflow of $1.2 billion due to copper imports.
She added that at an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation level, the company is also suffering a loss of around Rs 5 crore due to the closure of the unit. The area is suffering a loss of around Rs 700 crore per annum in various associated businesses.
"The genesis of the whole problem in 2018 is when we went into expansion mode. We wanted to double capacity from 400,000 tonnes to 800,000 tonnes. The entire protest was on the plant's expansion. After 2013, there were no complaints regarding gas emissions and water-related issues," she added.
Oddly enough, the Tamil Nadu government had informed the Madras high court in 2019 that there were 84 incidents of gas leaks from the plant in 2013 alone. The case is set to come up for hearing on January 20. In September last year, the National Human Rights Commission, too, had cited the incident as a 'scar on democracy'.
The company said that a 2019 source apportionment study by Anna University indicated that the major reasons for PM10 exceeding the limit in the city was due to road dust and vehicular emissions.
Interestingly, media reports suggested that the air quality data from the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme for Tuticorin had different numbers, with the city recording more days with healthy air quality indices and fewer days with poor air quality between April 2018 and March 2019.
"The plant operations did not cause any environmental issues to the place," argued Angusamy.