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NGOs planned closure of copper smelter in Tuticorin, says Sterlite CEO

The Tamil Nadu government in late May ordered the permanent closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelter after 13 people protesting to demand its shutdown on environmental concerns were killed in police firing.

business Updated: Jul 17, 2018 15:41 IST
Press Trust of India, New Delhi
Sterlite Copper,Tuticorin,Vedanta
A private security guard stands in front of the main gate of Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant, a unit of London-based Vedanta Resources, in Tuticorin, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.(REUTERS File Photo)

Mining baron Anil Agarwal’s Sterlite Copper has blamed NGOs for spreading “myths and wrong information” about its Tuticorin plant in Tamil Nadu and “inciting” local protests, leading to its shutdown after 13 dozen people died in police firing.

Sterlite Copper CEO P Ramnath told PTI that statistics don’t bear out “myths” like Tuticorin being the cancer capital of Tamil Nadu and the firm’s factory the biggest polluter in the region.

“We have been in Tuticorin for more than 20 years now and have maintained very close contact with villagers and fishermen,” he said.

“All these years, we invited locals on every Saturday to spend half a day at the plant to give them an overall picture of what is happening. Our doors were absolutely open and over these years several people had come including students, lawyers, and doctors.”

Protests, however, “suddenly erupted” in February as the company, after securing all approvals, began work on doubling the capacity of the plant to 800,000 tonnes per annum, he said.

“When we look back at the kind of social media messages that were circulated inciting locals, it certainly looks like it was a completely planned kind of an affair,” he said, adding that fishermen were idle during those times as it was dangerous to fish in choppy sea and school and colleges were closed for annual break.

“There were NGOs (non-governmental organisations) who hijacked the whole thing and put out social media messages inciting the public,” he said without naming anyone. “Whole lot of myths were put out”.

The Tamil Nadu government in late May ordered the permanent closure of a copper smelter of the firm after 13 people protesting to demand its shutdown on environmental concerns were killed in police firing.

Ramnath said a myth was spread that Tuticorin is the cancer capital of Tamil Nadu and every death that happens in the district is linked to Sterlite Copper.

“This is absolutely wrong. There is statistics to prove that this wrong. Out of 32 districts (in the state), Tuticorin ranked 14th in male cancer cases and 25th in female cancer,” he said. “Complete misinformation and misconception were propagated. They hyped up the matter to stoke public sentiments.”

Stating that the plant followed strict pollution control standards, he said there was “zero discharge” of sulphur. In comparison, there is 4,000 MW of power plant running on coal containing sulphur which when burnt releases harmful sulphur dioxide directly into the atmosphere, he said.

“The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board data shows there hasn’t been any change of sulphur dioxide level in Tuticorin after our plant was shutdown,” he said.

He said there are similar copper smelters at Dahej in Gujarat run by Hindalco as well as in the heart of Hamburg in Germany running without any problem.

Ramnath said the company will seek relief from the Supreme Court in the case.

First Published: Jul 17, 2018 15:11 IST