After facing several legal and political hurdles in reopening the Sterlite Copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, Anil Agarwal-backed Vedanta group is selling the plant. The company has invited expression of interest from the potential buyers.

“The Tuticorin plant is a national asset catering to 40 per cent of our copper l demand and has played an integral role towards India’s self-sufficiency. In the country’s best interest and the people of Tamil Nadu, we are exploring options to make sure that the plant and the assets are best utilised to meet growing demand of the nation,” said a company spokesperson.

The bids have been called in conjunction with Axis Capital and the last day to submit the EoI is July 4. Vedanta has pegged the plant’s capacity at 4 lakh tonnes a year in the advertisement issued by the company. The company’s share price was down 12.67 per cent to ₹230 on BSE at close on Monday.

The plant was closed in May 2018 following the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s order over pollution concerns. The TNPCB ordered the closure of the plant permanently after 13 anti-Sterlite protesters were shot in police firing.

The plant closure was challenged by the company in Madras High Court. However, the court refused to allow the reopening of the plant. The case is now pending in Supreme Court. Having invested over ₹3,000 crore in the plant, the company has lost ₹4,000 crore since its shutdown. At the time of closure, it employed 5,000 people directly, and another 25,000 indirectly.

Shift to other States

Vedanta is likely to set up a new plant in another State and had earlier invited expression of interest from various State governments. The proposed 500,000 tonnes per annum copper smelter could employ as many as 10,000 people, Vedanta had said earlier, adding that it was looking for a 1,000-acre site close to a port.

In a recent interview, Agarwal had said that shifting the plant to another State was the last option.

 “While coastal States such as Andhra Pradesh are interested in the project we don’t want to do anything in haste. We can go to another State but we have been in Thoothukudi for over 20 years. We like the people there and we have the trust of the local people,” Agarwal had told BusinessLine in April.