A history of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi

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A history of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi

  • Sterlite Copper has announced that it is selling off the plant at Thoothukudi.

Why is the Sterlite copper plant up for sale?

  • In June, Vedanta Group put out an advertisement to sell Sterlite Copper in Thoothukudi.
  • Ever since the plant was sealed in 2018 by TN government, company is trying to re-open it.
  • Sterlite Copper was running in loss.
  • Even if SC allowed them to re-open the company, it would need around ₹800 to ₹1,000 crores to revamp the plant.
  • Reason for the sale: exploring options to make sure that plant and assets are best utilised to meet growing copper demands of the nation.

Why was the plant under lock and key?

  • First blow came from the fishermen in the region.
  • They were worried that effluents discharged by the plant would pollute the sea which will in turn ruin their livelihoods.
  • 2013 : sulphur dioxide leak happened
  • But SC allowed them to function after the payment of a fine for polluting land and water by running the company without approval for a considerable period of time.
  • 2018 : company announced to enhance its capacity.
  • Large-scale protests from local and neighbouring localities broke out.
  • Protests turned violent and police open fired so Tamil Nadu government sealed the plant.

What has the company said about the many allegations against it?

  • Officials at Sterlite have always emphasisedthat the plant is equipped with full-fledged air pollution control measures and adequate solid waste management facilities.
  • Senior management has stressed that plant follows Zero Liquid Discharge since inception.
  • TNPCB carries out regular monthly sampling across all village bore wells and has found no abnormalities.

What was the impact of the closure of the plant?

  • India has shifted from being a large net exporter of refined copper to now being a net importer of copper during the last four years since shutdown of the Tuticorin plant.
  • According to data by Care Ratings, India is now importing copper at 50% higher price as compared to the average prices of copper when India was a net exporter of the same.
  • Sterlite was a major domestic supplier of phosphoric acid, which is a key raw material for fertilizer manufacturing companies.
  • These fertilizer units were impacted due to stoppage of supplies and had to start importing.
  • While operational, it was the largest supplier of sulphuric acid (used in detergent and chemical industries) and had 95% share of the market.

Why was a part of the Sterlite plant allowed to function during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • During second wave of pandemic, SC granted permission to re-open two oxygen plants at Sterlite Copper’s Thoothukudi plant.
  • This was done because of national needs.
  • Tamil Nadu government immediately constituted seven-member committee headed by the then district collector to oversee proper functioning of the oxygen plants.