Breaking its two-month-long silence since the Tuticorin shootings on May 22, Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper lashed out at the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), and cast aspersions on the state’s present-day investment appeal.
Sterlite Copper CEO P Ramnath referred to the Supreme Court ruling in 2013,which levied a 100-crore-rupee fine on the company while allowing it to function, as absolution of wrongdoing.
“The Supreme Court clearly said there may have been some deviations as per the NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) report, but these deviations are not so serious that they can’t be rectified,” said Ramnath.
‘Paid for TNPCB’s Delays’
Hitting out at the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Ramnath added, “The court also said our plant was operating without a CTO (Consent to Operate). However, we had already applied for renewal of the CTO, and paid the fee,” said Ramnath, and added “the TNPCB, because of their procedural constraints, did not renew it.”
The apex court’s 2013 ruling said that interest from Sterlite’s 100-crore-rupee fine would be used for environmental upkeep.
“The interest from the deposit is 40 crore, out of which four crore has been spent — on roads,” pointed out Ramnath.
‘Not a polluting company’
Holding Tuticorin’s power plants to blame for air pollution, while washing its hands of allegations of ground water contamination, Ramnath said that the allegations against Sterlite Copper were born out of a disinformation campaign.
“There are misconceptions, which have been brought about by irresponsible WhatsApp messages and social posts that have been going around,” said Ramnath.
“Sterlite Copper is responsible for less than one percent of sulphur dioxide emissions. Tuticorin’s power plants do not have a particulate matter mitigation system while we, on the other hand, have sulphuric acid plants, which capture 99.95% sulphur dioxide emitted from the smelting process.”
Ramnath also pointed out how there was enough and plenty of proof that groundwater marker pollutants stayed well below TNPCB-imposed limits.
‘TN’s investment image has taken a beating’
Admitting that doing business in Tamil Nadu looks tough, henceforth, Ramnath said, “This is not a position the State would want to be in. Despite Tamil Nadu moving up from 18 to 15 in the Ease of Doing Business rankings recently, we don’t know what the State’s position will be next year, on account of all that has happened.”
He added: “At this point of time, the image of Tamil Nadu as an investment destination has taken a beating.” The company however, ruled out any possibility of moving out of Tamil Nadu saying, “We have been here for 20 years and are one with Tuticorin.”
‘Industry may have lost up to Rs 20,000 crore’
Sterlite Copper has said that nearly 1.5 lakh people may have been affected by the protests and subsequent closure. This included families of direct and indirect employees, contractors, truckers, and employees of ancillary industries.
“We have lost 70,000 tons of copper production in the last two months, and copper customers are facing the heat since prices have increased by 5 to 10 percent,” said Ramnath.
He added that with the stoppage of Sterlite’s sale of 40,000 tons of sulphuric acid per month, the economy could be facing massive losses.
“The total loss is anywhere between 10 to 20,000 crore rupees,” he said.
‘Require a social licence to operate’
Confirming that Sterlite was currently in the process of building bridges with the local community, Ramnath said that an outreach programme would be the company’s next course of action.
A week ago, a section of villagers in Tuticorin had petitioned for legal assistance, claiming that they were coerced into joining the protests. Sterlite Copper has said this is validation of their claims that external elements were involved in engineering the agitation.
“We have formed teams consisting of our employees who have met villagers and attempted to correct misconceptions, which have been brought about by irresponsible WhatsApp messages,” said Ramnath, “We will require a legal license and a social license to operate.”
First Published: IST