Sterlite Copper’s oxygen: Is it a story of so near, yet so far?

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on April 26, 2021

Company keen to provide all the capacity available to produce medical grade oxygen

Is the Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi capable of producing medical oxygen? Even as the All-Party meeting in Chennai deliberated on allowing only the oxygen facility to function at the closed copper smelter, Tamil Nadu’s Advocate General Vijay Narayan informed the Madras High Court that most of Sterlite’s 1,050-tonne capacity is for producing oxygen for industrial use.

Vedanta does not have compression and bottling plants to convert the gaseous oxygen to liquid oxygen and will at least take nine months to set up compression and bottling plants, the AG told the Court.

After the all-party meeting resolved to permit oxygen production at the plant temporarily for four months, the AG informed the Court that Vedanta agreed to increase the liquefaction of gaseous oxygen and expedite setting up of the compressing and bottling plants.

‘Entire capacity available’

A statement by Vedanta simply said that the company is committed to making the entire oxygen production capacity of 1,000 tonnes available for the purpose of producing medical grade oxygen. It is already working with experts on how best to resolve the logistics of dispatching this to critical areas in Tamil Nadu on priority, and subsequently across the nation, it added.

The statement was silent on when it will increase the liquefaction capacity and set up compressing and bottling plants.

The Madras High Court said that it has no mandate to deal with the Vedanta issue as the Supreme Court is seized of it. However, the submissions were made by the AG in the suo motu case taken up by it on Covid-19 management.

Priority for TN

Earlier at the all-party meeting it was resolved other than oxygen, the plant should not be involved in any other production. While priority for supply of oxygen should be given to Tamil Nadu, the surplus production can be given to other States. The production will be monitored by a committee consisting of senior State government officials.

The meeting, which lasted for nearly two hours at the Secretariat, was in the backdrop of Sterlite offering to produce 1,000 tonnes of oxygen daily at the plant and give to various States for free to meet the surge in demand for oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients. The company had also moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to produce oxygen at the plant

At the meeting, the DMK backed the move to reopen the oxygen plant but wanted the government to operate it and oxygen made available free of cost.

Apex Court’s concern

When the matter was heard last week in the Apex Court, a bench headed by then Chief Justice Sharad A Bobde had voiced its anguish at the State’s objection to re-open the plant. “We do not care if it is you, Vedanta, Centre, A, B, C who runs the plant, but oxygen must be produced from a place capable of producing it... ,” the then CJI told Tamil Nadu.

The Apex Court will take up the matter on Tuesday.

The Sterlite plant has been closed since May 2018 following public protests demanding the closure of the plant and the death of 13 anti-Sterlite protesters in a police firing. At a meeting last week, the proposal to reopen the plant for oxygen production was strongly objected to by a section of people in Thoothukudi.


Published on April 26, 2021

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