Tuticorin protest: We're being victimised, says Sterlite Copper CEO Ramnath

Sterlite Copper CEO Ramnath
How do you react to the past 48 hours’ developments, including the court order to stop work on the phase-II expansion?

We appeal to the government to ensure the safety of our employees, facilities and the surrounding community. We received the Court order just now and have not been given time to respond. We will go through it and decide on what next to do.

What is Sterlite doing to address the concerns?

We have been engaging with the local community. Around 70 per cent of the employees are from Tamil Nadu; of that, 70 per cent are locals. We have also done lots of CSR  activities, especially related to water, which is a major problem here. We need to step up local connect activities.

People say the plant is hazardous and not following norms.

There are myths being propagated by various vested interests, such as cancer due to Sterlite. Fear psychosis is being instilled in the minds of people. We are living half a kilometre from the plant — we are all living proofs. Several children have grown up there. They are alleging effluent is taken out to the sea. Where do we have a pipeline? This plant is zero-liquid discharge. We have asked people, protestors, to visit our plant and said we will provide all the data, explain everything. They have not visited. 

The state government and Pollution Control Board (PCB) allege Sterlite has not followed the norms.

The consent to operate for the existing plant has been refused; five conditions were listed. One is that ground water sampling has not been provided. That is something the PCB themselves come and take and get it tested. Then, there is some ambient air quality monitoring; the arsenic test has to be carried out through some NABL-accredited laboratory. They had not asked us for this till now. If they want it, we will be able to provide it. Then there is hazardous waste authorisation not being submitted. It has been done for four or five years. We have been giving the application and the PCB has not given us any information on this. We expect that if there is a rejection, we should be told so and the reasons, so that we can take remedial action. 

I don’t see any issue at all in complying with all those conditions. When the matter comes up before the Appellate Board on June 6, we are confident on getting a favourable order.

Are you saying you are completely environment-friendly?

So many committees visited Sterlite over the years and found things to be okay. This is a journey and there might not be things 100 per cent okay. They have given recommendations — like NEERI suggested 30 recommendations, NGT suggested 15-20 recommendations. All these have been fulfilled. 

We have ourselves established various monitorings, such as a fence-line monitoring system, where any emission which crosses these beams will be recorded. Several things are monitored by the PCB and everything is recorded. People should not get carried away by the canards being floated.

On the whole, for the environment alone, we have invested Rs 5 billion. There are allegations that phase-II of your expansion lacks clearances. We have taken the land from SIPCOT (the state investment promotion entity) and have environment clearances. We need to take up the matter in court.

You don't have the support of the ruling party, opposition party and of local people. Any plan to look at other states?

Going legally is the only solution. We don't have any plans to expand outside Tamil Nadu.

What loss have you incurred due to closure?

Every four years, we will shut down for 45 days as part of maintenance. We see this as an extended shutdown.

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