Sterlite seeks TNPCB permission for reopening plant

Chennai: Vedanta group company Sterlite Thursday said it has sought permission from Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board for reopening its copper smelter plant in Tuticorin, the move coming days after the National Green Tribunal set aside a state government order for its closure.

Sterlite Chief Executive Officer P Ramnath said after getting the TNPCB permission, it would take about two months for making the plant operational. “We have already approached the TNPCB. As per the NGT order, they (TNPCB) have been given three weeks to renew the consent. We have also made our request to the TNPCB,” he told reporters here.

The state government had, on 28 May, ordered the TNPCB to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns. On an appeal by the company, the NGT on 15 December quashed the order, holding that it was “non-sustainable” and “unjustified.”

The state government had said it would file an appeal in the Supreme Court even as opposition parties faulted it for the development. Ramnath claimed that the company had been receiving “massive support” from locals for reopening the plant. “…we have been receiving massive support from (people of) around 15 villages,” he said.

The CEO said around Rs 100 crore would be spent in Tuticorin towards funding infrastructure schemes, an offer the company’s counsel made before the NGT during the hearing. Saying that the plant was inaccessible for the past six months, Ramnath said, “We have to be given permission to enter the premises. For the last 6 months, there has been no steps taken towards ‘care and maintenance’…We will take some time…around two months(to reopen the plant).”

On 15 December, the National Green Tribunal set aside the Tamilnadu government order for closure of mining company Vedanta Ltd’s sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin, which was at the centre of massive protests over alleged pollution, saying it was “non sustainable” and “unjustified.”

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson A K Goel asked the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from 15 December.

The company said it had committed to undertake plantation of one million trees across the city (Tuticorin) and initiate a youth development scheme that includes employment, sports and entrepreneurship. Smart school, a world class hospital, desalination plant are among the slew of initiatives announced by Sterlite.

The green panel has said the company should spend within three years Rs 100 crore on welfare of inhabitants of the area. The bench also suggested that the company take steps for safeguarding environment, like creating a dedicated website where the stakeholders can lodge their environment-related grievances.

Earlier in April, TNPCB had rejected Sterlite’s plea to renew the ‘Consent To Operate’ certification, saying the company had not complied with the stipulated conditions. Thirteen people were killed in police firing on 22-23 May and several injured after the protests against Sterlite turned violent in Tuticorin.