Why Didn’t TN Pollution Control Board Renew Sterlite’s Licence?

The board accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag along the Uppar river and obstructing the flow of water.

2 min read
Police personnel tackle the agitators demanding the closure of Vedantas Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, as the protest enters the 100th day.

The months-long protest demanding closure of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, took a violent turn on Tuesday, 22 May, with agitators allegedly pelting stones and toppling police vehicles after they were prevented from marching towards the plant. At least 11 people have been reportedly killed and a dozen others have been injured in police firing.

But as the protests against the Sterlite plant continues, the plant remains ‘non-operational.’

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had refused to renew its application to extend the Consent to Operate (CTO).

The matter is in Madras High Court and the court is likely to deliver an interim order in the case on Wednesday, 23 May.

Here’s why the TNPCB was against renewing Vendanta’s Sterlite Copper plant licence.


1. Dumping of Copper Slag

The pollution control board has accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag – a byproduct of copper extraction by smelting – along the Uppar river and obstructing the flow of water. This has allegedly caused flooding in residential areas nearby. Reports suggest that the firm didn't construct a physical barrier between the Uppar river and a landfill, and this allowed slag to reach the river.

Hundreds of families in the region were affected due to flooding in the Uppar stream in 2015. On 28 July, 2016, in a review meeting chaired by then Thoothukudi collector M Ravikumar, residents reportedly blamed the copper slag on the banks of the river for their woes.

According to a show cause notice given by the TNPCB to Sterlite, 3.52 lakh tonne of copper slag was found dumped on the site of the water body during inspection.

2. Groundwater Analysis

The pollution caused by the smelter to the groundwater in the vicinity was not recorded. Sterlite, according to the board, had not furnished reports of groundwater analysis of borewells near the site.


3. Waste Disposal

Sterlite allegedly generates and disposes hazardous waste without valid authorisation.

4. Arsenic Content

In addition to failing to provide data on groundwater, the copper smelter did not conduct studies to understand the arsenic content it may be generating. There was no analysis of arsenic content in the ambient air nor was a gypsum pond constructed.

Sterlite’s counsel, according to reports, has orally stated that some of the grounds have been complied with for the CTO. It has further claimed that authorisation for hazardous waste disposal is pending with the TNPCB.

(With inputs from The News Minute)

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