MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta shouldn't be allowed to re-open polluting Indian smelter

Published by MAC on 2013-05-13
Source: Statement, The Hindu, Reuters (2013-05-10)

Chorus of opposition rises in Tuticorin

This week, India's National Green Tribunal is set to decide whether UK-listed Vedanta can re-open its Tuticorin copper smelter in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The plant has been shut since March, following toxic leaks which a growing body of residents allege have caused numerous instances of ill-health.

The state pollution control board also wants the smelter to be kept closed.

For background, see: Vedanta faces India's Green Tribunal over smelter disaster

Thoothukudi residents meet Political Leaders on Sterlite Issue

Anti-Sterlite People's Struggle Committee Press Release

10 May 2013

Pollution victims, cancer patients and residents of Thoothukudi [Tuticori] are in Chennai to meet political leaders and seek their support to ensure that Sterlite's copper smelter remains permanently shut.

The delegation said that shutting down Sterlite would benefit the local economy as it will free up water resources, revitalise agriculture and animal husbandry, and improve people's health allowing them to work more effectively.

The Anti-Sterlite People's Struggle Committee also released a booklet titled "Doctors Speak Out" containing testimonies of ten prominent medical professionals from Thoothukudi on the state of health and pollution in the city.

Highlighting Thoothukudi's status as the air pollution capital of South India, the residents presented themselves as proof against Sterlite's claims that it operates a safe factory and that nobody in Thoothukudi suffered the effects of toxic gas exposure on 23 March. The delegation visiting Chennai includes one young lady who had to undergo an abortion after inhaling the toxic gas on 23 March, the wife of a Sterlite worker who succumbed to cancer, and numerous others pollution-impacted residents and cancer victims.

As one of the largest industrial water consumers in Thoothukudi district, Sterlite's requirements have shortchanged Thamiraparani farmers and drastically affected agriculture.

Closer to the factory, farmers from Therku Veerapandiapuram and Milavittan say pollution has hit agriculture and cattle-rearing. Fodder grown in the vicinity of the factory does not have a market, and local livestock are unhealthy and short-lived.

The delegation said that besides Sterlite, other industries in the region too should be stringently regulated. They said they will return to Chennai next week to meet key health and environment departments to press for long-term action towards bringing pollution levels in Thoothukudi down.

For more information, contact:

Fatima Babu: 9443404855 (Anti-Sterlite People's Struggle Committee)

Nityanand Jayaraman: 9444082401


No interim relief to Sterlite for operating copper plant: NGT

The Hindu

8 May 2013

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday refused to grant any interim relief to UK-based Vedanta Group company, Sterlite Industries Ltd, to commence operation of its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district.

A bench headed by (NGT) Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said even though the expert committee report said the emission and ambient air quality were within prescribed limits, there is no "justification" for allowing the plant to start operating as there were claims of gas leakage from the industrial unit.

"We have perused the report. It appears that the stack and ambient air quality are within prescribed parameters. Counsel for Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and interveners contend there have been instances of gas leakage. Therefore, despite the report, there is no justification for vacation of stay," the bench said.

The Tribunal was hearing the appeals of Sterlite seeking stay on the order of closure of its plant by TNPCB and the disconnection of power supply to its unit.

Sterlite has sought commencement of operations, saying it was incurring a loss of Rs five crore per day.

Counsel for TNPCB opposed Sterlite's appeal, saying it is not maintainable as the company should have first approached the state appellate authority against the orders of the pollution control board.

Mr. Vaiko, the General Secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhaga (MDMK), who is a party in the case, also opposed Sterlite's plea to commence operations. He contended that emission from the plant is likely to cause harm to the environment and the general public.

The NGT will now on May 14 hear arguments on maintainability of the plea and in the meanwhile has directed its registry to provide copies of the expert panel's report to all the parties.

On March 30, TNPCB had ordered the closure of the plant after locals complained of gas leakage. The TNPCB ordered closure of the smelter plant after sulphur dioxide allegedly leaked from the plant on March 23 and affected a large number of residents of Tuticorin.

Following this, Sterlite had moved the tribunal.

On April 18, a panel was constituted by the NGT to inspect the copper smelting plant. The panel has made two inspections so far and submitted its report in a sealed cover to the tribunal's south zone bench which, however, transferred the case to Delhi without citing any reasons.

Earlier, on April 2 the Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment.

It had, however, clarified that the imposition of fine would not stand in the way of any action by the state's pollution control board. The apex court had not ordered closure of the plant.


India's top copper smelter to stay shut until at least May 14

Krishna N Das

Reuters

8 May 2013

NEW DELHI - India's biggest copper smelter will stay shut until at least May 14 when a court will review an environmental case again, prolonging a six-week shutdown which is squeezing local supplies and boosting copper concentrate processing fees in Asia.

The Sterlite Industries' plant, which meets half of India's copper demand, was closed on March 30 after residents complained of emissions that led to breathing problems.

Justice Swatanter Kumar of the National Green Tribunal, a special fast-track environmental court, said on Wednesday an expert panel's report had to be given to all parties and set the next hearing for May 14.

The closure of the smelter, which uses imported concentrates, has pushed about 3,000 tonnes per day of concentrates onto the market.

The local environment authority said it might appeal to the Supreme Court if this court decides the plant can re-open.

"Based on the judgment, we may file an appeal with the Supreme Court," said Abdul Saleem, a lawyer for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.

In a separate case, India's top court last month fined Sterlite about $18 million for breaking environmental laws at the smelter.

The plant produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month - or more than half of India's total production - and nearly half of the output goes to China.

"The closure is already having an impact, physical (copper) supplies are getting tight, and therefore imports into India are positively up," said Sandeep Daga, director at Regsus Consulting Pvt. Ltd. "Even if the plant starts, it will another 2-3 weeks to re-start production."

India's annual copper consumption was about 610,000 tonnes for the year ending March 31, according to government data. Most of its copper exports go to China, the world's biggest consumer of the metal, which used up around 9 million tonnes last year.

"Copper premiums are likely to remain high and could even possibly move up marginally as the plant will remain shut," said a Singapore-based metals trader.

"As of now there is not much of a copper cathode requirement from India but the longer the plant remains closed more and more and people will start looking to cover some of their requirement through imports," the trader added.

Cashing in on regional oversupply after the Sterlite closure, smelters across Asia have been charging the highest fees in five months to process concentrates.

"The impact of Sterlite's closure is that spot shipments have increased in Asia," said a trader at an international firm.

Spot concentrate was trading at treatment and refining charges of about $80 per tonne and 8 cents a pound to China, up by a third from $60 and 6 cents before the closure, added the trader.

The charges are paid by sellers of copper concentrates to smelters for converting the raw material into metal and then deducted from the sale price, based on London Metal Exchange copper prices.

Sterlite, a unit of London-listed resources conglomerate Vedanta Resources Plc, controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, has been awaiting clearances to double the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes a year.

The smelter in the coastal town of Tuticorin near the southern tip of India has long been the target of protesters and politicians who say it is a risk to the local fishing industry.

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