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Vedanta To Sell Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi; Activists Doubtful of Advt

Since the closure of the copper plant at Thoothukudi, Vendanta has been 'incurring a loss of Rs 5 crore per day.'

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Vedanta To Sell Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi; Activists Doubtful of Advt
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The Vedanta Group has put its sprawling Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi up for sale. An advertisement to this effect was published on the company's official website on Monday, 20 June.

The company's sulphuric acid plant, copper refinery, oxygen generation facility and residential homes are also up for sale. The last day to submit Expression of Interest is 4 July and the bids have been invited in conjunction with Axis Capital.

In connection with their advertisement, Vedanta Limited Sterlite Copper issued a statement on Monday stating, “In the best interest of country and the people of Tamil Nadu, we are exploring options to make sure that the plant and the assets are best utilized to meet growing copper demand of the nation.”

The advertisement has come as a surprise because, in the last few years, Vedanta has been appealing to the state government to reopen the plant.

The plant has been shut since 2018 on the orders of the Tamil Nadu government. In May 2018, locals in Thoothukudi protested against the expansion plan of the copper plant citing concerns that the plant was causing environmental pollution. At least 13 persons were killed and hundreds were injured in the police firing on the protest.

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Since Closure, Loss of ₹5 Crore Incurred Every Day

The note on their official website reads: “Vedanta, in conjunction with Axis Capital, invites Expression of Interest for the sale of its Copper plant along with its other units which includes Smelter Complex (primary and secondary), sulphuric acid plant, copper refinery, continuous copper rod plant, phosphoric acid plant, effluent treatment plant, captive power plants, RO units, oxygen generation unit and residential complex.”

Vedanta's share price dropped 12 percent intraday on 20 June after the announcement went public on their website. Currently, it is trading 43.69 percent below its 52-week high and 2.31 percent above its 52-week low.

The Vedanta Group has put the copper smelter unit in Thoothukudi, up for sale.

(Image: Vedanta Official Website)

Vedanta has pegged the plant capacity at 4 lakh tonnes a year and said that the plant contributed to 40 percent of the country’s national demand for copper. Since closure the company had said it has been incurring a loss of Rs 5 crore a day.

The Thoothukudi plant has an installed capacity of 4,00,000 MTPA of integrated copper smelter and refinery another 4,00,000 MTPA under expansion. When the plant was operational, it contributed to about Rs 2,500 crore to the exchequer and provided jobs to over 5,000 people and to another 25,000 indirectly, the company has claimed.

Activists: ‘This Is Just a Ploy by Vedanta’

In the Thoothukudi Sterlite violence, 13 civilians were killed in police firing, and more than 100 people were injured.

(Image: The News Minute)

Several people living in the villages around the plant welcomed the announcement. "We are happy to hear about this. We don't want to continue protesting. There should be an end to this polluting industry," said 68-year-old Ramani whose son was killed in the police firing.

Anti-Sterlite activists who have been vociferous demanding permanent closure of the plant, however, are skeptical about the announcement.

"We believe this is just a ploy by the company. After a few days, they will claim that they were not able to sell the plant and will come up with a fresh appeal to the state government to allow them to operate."
Rajesh* (name changed), Social Activist

Social activist Medha Patkar, on 24 May, said the state government should not promote Sterlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi or allow it to come back.

The groundwater has been adversely impacted in the villages around the plant that the residents have to pay for water lorries for daily water supply.

(Image: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

However, some sections living in the villages around the industry have appealed to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin to reopen the plant. Fisherwomen from coastal hamlets in the region and the Thoothukudi Contractors' Association have submitted a petition to district collector K Senthil Raj demanding the opening of the plant.

Meanwhile, Sterlite Copper on 15 June, gave Rs 2.50 lakh each to 12 persons injured in the police firing during the anti-Sterlite protests, to help them start their own business ventures.

Ramesh* (name changed), a fisherman, who was injured in the shoulder during the firing, said that he was unable to earn a living. But with the new incentive, he has planned to buy a country-boat.

The Sterlite Copper administration had also said that can help the injured beneficiaries in future.

"People have been appealing for reopening because they have been adversely affected by unemployment. But it is the duty of the state government to ensure there are new avenues to get jobs. The closure of the plant has resulted in visible difference in the water quality and groundwater levels," said Rajesh.

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Centre: 'Copper Production in the Country Adversely Affected'

The closure of the copper plant had reportedly adversely affected the domestic production of refined copper.

Pralhad Joshi, Minister of Mines, Coal and Parliamentary Affairs had earlier informed the Lok Sabha that refined copper imports increased from 44,373 tonnes in 2017-18 to 115,005 tonnes during 2018-19 and 152,000 tonnes in 2019-20.

Vedanta said around ₹800 crore to ₹1,000 crore would be required to revamp the plant, if and when the permission came.

(Image: Vedanta)

Copper production in the country, as a result of the plant’s closure, dropped to 410,000 tonnes in 2019-20 from 830,000 tonnes in 2017-18.

India’s imports of refined copper had more than tripled between 2017-18 and 2019-20. Exports declined from 378,000 tonnes in 2017-18 to 47,917 tonnes in 2018-19 and 36,959 tonnes in 2019-20, he said.

Some have stated that the closure of the plant has posed a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of an 'Atmanirbhar Bharat.'

In its statement, Vedanta said that the plant is a national asset that has “played an integral role towards India’s self-sufficiency in copper.”

"For two decades, Vedanta has been contributing significantly to nation building. Governance and sustainable development are at the core of Vedanta's strategy, with a strong focus on health, safety, and environment. Vedanta is committed to reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050 or sooner and has pledged $5 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate the transition to net zero operations. Giving back is in the DNA of Vedanta, which is focused on enhancing the lives of local communities," the statement read.

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