‘Strong on facts’, Sterlite Copper hopes to restart TN smelter unit soon

N Madhavan Chennai | Updated on May 16, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

P Ramnath, CEO, Sterlite Copper

Appeal against TNPCB decision coming up tomorrow

Sterlite Copper, the Vedanta group company that has been embroiled in pollution-related controversy yet again, is hopeful of re-starting its copper smelter facility at Thoothukudi in southern Tamil Nadu soon.

The company’s appeal against the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) decision not to renew the ‘consent to operate’ is coming up at the Apellate Authority -- Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on May 17.

“We are confident. We are strong on facts,” P Ramnath, Chief Executive Officer, told BusinessLine.

The company’s smelter plant with a capacity to produce 4 lakh tonnes per annum has remained shut since the last week of March after the TNPCB refused to extend the ‘consent to operate’ — an approval that is required for any facility to continue operations.

Multiple reasons

“We applied for the consent in January. As per the norms, TNPCB should have responded in 45 days. They kept us hanging and finally held back the consent,” he said. The earlier consent expired on March 31, 2018. The TNPCB has said that it has held back the consent for multiple reasons which include non-furnishing of ground water analysis report both within the factory and surrounding areas, non-removal of copper slug stored along Uppar river and non-construction of a physical barrier between the slag land fill and the river, generation and disposal of hazardous waste without proper authorisation as per rules, non-submission of ambient air quality, noise level and stack emission and non-construction of a gypsum pond as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines.

The company, on its part, has said that it has strong response for each of these reasons.

Previous closure

This is not the first time the unit has shut down for environmental reasons.

The previous closure in 2013 saw the matter go up to the National Green Tribunal and then the Supreme Court. The plant remained shut for weeks.

The latest round of protests against the unit started when the company announced plans to double its capacity to 8 lakh tonnes at an investment of ₹3,000 crore.

Leading politicians in the State also lent their support. “We have invested as much as ₹500 crore in pollution abatement. Also, we do not let out sulphur dioxide as we convert it to sulphuric acid and sell it,” Ramnath said.

The company claims that it has put in place state-of-the-art equipment such as fenceline monitoring system, live flow of emission data to TNPCB, interlocks (this facility stops the plant automatically if sulphur dioxide levels exceed the permissible levels) and the entire plant is a zero-discharge facility.

As regards the expansion, Ramnath claims that the company has got the necessary clearances from both Ministry of Environment and Forests and TNPCB. It blames foreign-funded NGOs with ‘hidden agenda’ for the protests.

The protesters blame the company for flouting rules and all ills in and around the plant in Thoothukudi.

All eyes are now on the Appellate Authority as it hears the company and those opposing its operation on May 17.

Published on May 15, 2018
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