Shutting the Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi can inflate India’s import bill by around $2 billion a year and threaten nearly 30,000 jobs, the company’s Chief Executive Officer P Ramnath told IANS news agency. He told Mint the company was exploring legal options.
The Tamil Nadu government ordered the closure of the smelter on Monday, days after 13 people were killed in police firing in Thoothukudi during protests against the expansion of the plant. Activists and locals have accused Sterlite for years, of contaminating the region’s air and water resources, causing breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer.
Vedanta, which owns Sterlite Copper, is working on a legal challenge to the closure order of the plant, but will not proceed until tensions over the deaths of protestors have eased, two unidentified officials told Reuters.
“The sudden decision of the Tamil Nadu government to close down our copper smelter in Tuticorin [Thoothukudi] will have far-reaching ramifications for the economy of not only the town and its adjoining villages but also the country,” Ramnath told IANS.
“While an estimated 30,000 direct and indirect jobs are now on the line, a large number of small to medium enterprises that are dependent on our smelter for copper are also likely to suffer due to supply disruptions,” he said. “Since Vedanta Sterlite is one of the largest copper producers in the country, manufacturers in sectors ranging from electrical to defence will have to turn to imports and that will push up the nation’s annual import bill by an estimated $2 billion based on the current price.”
In another interview to Mint, Ramnath accused non-governmental organisations of spreading falsehoods about the smelter among villagers. “There is no basis for the kind of myth floating around,” he said. “In data for cancer incidence, Thoothukudi is not even in the top six of 32 districts in Tamil Nadu. Among men, Thoothukudi is at number 15.”
He said the company produces 36% of India’s annual demand of 6.50-6.75 lakh tonnes of copper.
On Tuesday, the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu cancelled the land allotted to Vedanta for the proposed expansion of the plant. The land price collected for the land allotment will be refunded.