TNPCB orders Sterlite copper plant closure

Written by feBureau | Chennai | Updated: Mar 31 2013, 06:17am hrs
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on Saturday ordered closure of Sterlite Industries copper smelter unit, located in Tuticorin, with immediate effect owing to alleged leaks of noxious gas. The TNPCB, under instructions from district collector Ashish Kumar, issued a notice, directing the Vedanta Group company to close the plant. When contacted, a senior company of the company confirmed the development.

In a statement, Sterlite officials said that the plant adheres to the highest standards of environment, health and safety practices, benchmarked to international standards. We will engage with TNPCB to explain the factual position and are committed to cooperate fully with the authorities in this regard, in order to be able to restart operations, officials said in a statement.

The development assumes significance since the Supreme Court is expected to soon announce its verdict on a petition filed by the company against Madras High Courts 2010 judgement, ordering the company to stop operations at the facility due to environmental issues. The company had challenged the Madras HC order and obtained a stay order.

It is believed that following the PCB order, the company has started shutting down the operations of the 400,000 tonne per annum copper smelter plant. The complete closure of the plant will take at least a day or two, sources pointed out. The plant also produces sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, gypsum and anode slimes.

The TNPCB order came a week after an unspecified gas allegedly leaked in the area on March 23. The gas leak caused mild suffocation, sore throat and eye irritation to several people in the locality who suspected that it originated from Sterlite, dealing in sulphuric acid, a by-product.

Pavan Kaushik, head of corporate communications, Vedanta Group, said: The company has been operating its copper smelter in Tuticorin for the last 17 years with requisite approvals and consents issued by regulatory authorities. The plant has undergone continuous upgradation of technology over the years, including the implementation of numerous environmental upgradation measures based on recommendations of TNPCB, NEERI and CPCB in the last two years.

He further said that in response to a few public complaints of emission on March 23, 2013, TNPCB carried out a preliminary inspection. We provided to TNPCB all the technical details of the operations, which confirms that all parameters and key readings of the particular period of 23rd March, were well within the permissible range, the official said.

The District Administration also issued a press note confirming that no case of illness was reported on account of alleged emission, based on a report by district health officials, the official added.

The leak triggered protests with hundreds of people demanding the units closure. The companys copper smelter plant in Tuticorin has been facing protests from various environmentalists and related groups for alleged violation of pollution norms for over a period time.

It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier asked the National Energy Research Institute (NERI) to inspect copper smelting plant for pollution and submit the report within eight weeks.

During one of the hearings earlier, TNPCB informed the apex court that Sterlite had failed to comply with its direction to take appropriate steps for storage of raw materials, solid waste disposal, controlling fugitive gaseous emissions and to develop a green belt of 75% as per license conditions.