Indian metals tycoon Anil Agarwal, the founder of mining conglomerate Vedanta, on Thursday said he was saddened by the events in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi town, where the police have killed 13 people protesting against a copper smelter run by Sterlite Copper, one of Vedanta’s subsidiaries.
For more than two decades, activists have accused Sterlite of contaminating the region’s air and water resources, causing breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer.
“We always make sure the community and Tuticorin people at large prosper with us,” Agarwal said referring to the town by its British name. “I am totally committed to the community and people at large, and with their wish and prosperity we would like to continue this business...I will abide by the law of the land. Once again, I am very much in pain with what happened yesterday.”
Agarwal said the plant was not open at the moment because of an annual shutdown. “We are waiting for clearance from the court and the government to restart the plant,” he added. “And we are strictly following what the court and the government’s orders are.”
Agarwal’s statement comes a day after he told the Financial Times that he was planning to step back from running the company. Agarwal said that the appointment of Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan as the company’s new chief executive officer would allow him to focus on his charitable interests.
“As Venkat comes in, I am looking forward to him taking over from me and give me space so I can do what I need to do,” Agarwal told the newspaper. “He must give me time to step back and fulfil my ambitions.”
The billionaire also revealed his plans to donate most of his wealth to charity. “I am very clear this company is not going to be run by the family,” Agarwal said. “It has been created as an institution and most of the wealth will go back to the society.”
He brushed aside concerns about Venkatakrishnan’s lack of experience outside of gold mining. “He has worked in Africa, Australia, Central America,” Agarwal said. “He has mined everywhere. We are a mining company and the most difficult mining is gold. For millions of tonnes [mined] you get one ounce. He has the experience of underground mining.”