Vedanta India’s Chief Executive Officer P Ramnath has said that the company hopes to restart its copper smelter in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu and continue its expansion plans despite the ongoing protests against it, Reuters reported on Friday.
Thirteen people died of injuries sustained during police firing after they protested against Sterlite Copper’s smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi earlier this week. Sterlite Copper is a unit of Vedanta, one of the world’s largest mining and metals conglomerate. Around 70 people were injured in the agitation. The police have arrested 67 people for indulging in violence. On Thursday, the Tamil Nadu government had said that it was considering a permanent shutdown of Sterlite.
However, Vedanta’s chief Ramnath said they’re not “in that stage to look at setting up a plant elsewhere”. “We’re confident that we will be able to overcome these issues,” Ramnath said. “It will certainly require a huge effort but I am sure we can hope to restart as quickly as possible.”
For more than two decades, activists in Thoothukudi have accused Sterlite of contaminating the region’s air and water resources, causing breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer. Since February, there have been protests in Thoothukudi, where Sterlite runs a copper smelter with the capacity to produce 4.38 lakh tonnes of copper anodes per annum, or 1,200 tonnes per day.
Ramnath said it was only a perception that the smelter was causing pollution in Thoothukudi because of its size. He hoped that the smelter can be restarted and its capacity doubled. “Our chairman [Anil Agarwal] has said that we need the license to operate, but we also need to build bridges with the local community so that we get their license to operate as well,” he said. “But at this point of time, the atmosphere is very tense, temperatures are high.”
On May 24, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board cut power supply to Sterlite Copper’s Thoothukudi smelter after it found that the unit was “carrying out activities to resume production” despite being told not to do so until its licence to operate is renewed. Ramnath denied this allegation. “There was no reason for making preparations to restart the plant when we are still under maintenance that happens once in four years,” he said, adding that he was considering legal options to get power restored to the smelter.