Blow to Vedanta as Tamil Nadu orders permanent closure of Sterlite factory

Smoke billows out of burning vehicles after a violent protest demanding closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit entered the 100th day, in Thoothukudi, on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
The Tamil Nadu government on Monday ordered the closure of Vedanta Group's Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi. The development comes after 13 people were killed last week in police firing during protests.

The government order states that it is brought to the notice of the government that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board did not renew the Consent to Operate to Vedanta’s copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi in its order dated April 9, 2018. Subsequently, on May 23, 2018, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also issued directions for closure and disconnection of power supply to the unit.

"Under Sections, 18(1)(b) of the Water Act, 1974, in the larger public interest, the government endorses the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also directs the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently," according to the order.

“Closure of Sterlite’s copper plant is an unfortunate development, especially since we have operated the plant for over 22 years in the most transparent and sustainable way, contributing to Tuticorin and the state’s socio-economic development. We will study the order and decide on the future course of action,” Vedanta said in a statement.

Protestors welcomed the order but said they needed a Cabinet decision on the same, or the company would move court to obtain a stay.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said during inspections by its officials on May 18 and 19, it was found that the unit was carrying out activities to resume operations, though permission was not granted. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said the decision was taken after a meeting with Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam and other ministers.

The decision comes a day before the state Legislative Assembly starts its session. Soon after the announcement, the district administration led by District Collector Sandip Nanduri visited the facility and sealed the gate after pasting the government order. 

"This plant is permanently closed, according to the order of the environment ministry. The plant has not complied with the recommendations of the Pollution Control Board and has been asked to stop operations on April 9, 2018. Now, this is a permanent closure," Nanduri added.

Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board officials will now visit the plant and take stock of the equipment, which could include some hazardous equipment, to handle them technically.