Indian police officials charge towards protestors in the southern Indian city of Tuticorin some 600 kilometres (375 miles) south of Chennai on May 22, 2018, during a protest rally held to demand the closure of a copper factory due to pollution concerns. 
 / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR/File
Indian police officials charge towards protestors in the southern Indian city of Tuticorin some 600 kilometres (375 miles) south of Chennai on May 22, 2018, during a protest rally held to demand the closure of a copper factory due to pollution concerns. / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR/File

The shutting down of Vedanta Ltd's copper smelter at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu more than two years ago has led to the country having to spend USD 2 billion on the import of copper, a top company official said.

The Madras High Court had earlier this month refused to allow the reopening of the plant that was shut in May 2018 after 13 people died when police fired upon protesters during anti-pollution demonstrations which had allegedly turned violent.

"The government per se had lost forex of USD 2 billion, which was something like about Rs 15,000 crore per year... So say Rs 35,000-40,000 crore in this two-and-a-half-year period by way of imports of copper, which we would have otherwise produced," Sterlite Copper CEO Pankaj Kumar told PTI.

The closure of the plant resulted in a monetary loss of around Rs 6,000 crore to the company, he said.

"Yeah, the loss is tremendous. I mean, one is a monetary loss and the other loss is one that cannot be monetised. For example, the monetary loss for the company is one wherein we lost I would say something around Rs 6,000 crore, maybe in the last two and a half years...Plus we used to spend about Rs 600 crore in the vicinity of Thoothukudi...by way of salaries, in some input materials, etc which has come to zero. So the people here (around 50,000) have suffered their livelihood because of our closure," he said.

He went on to claim that the shutting down of the plant had resulted in "negative sentiment." "I am not sure many investors would like to invest in Tamil Nadu especially given the scenario and the manner in which the plant was closed," he said.

"The Prime Minister is talking about Aatmanirbhar Bharat and he is talking about being self-sufficient and here we have a plant which was producing 40 per cent of India's copper and suddenly (it is) out ... you have the people importing the same amount of material from outside so our self-sufficiency goes for a toss," he said.

However, District Collector of Thoothudkudi district Sandeep Nanduri said all the points made by the company does not make any meaning because they have already been argued in the court.

"Everything has been already argued before the High Court and the same set of arguments have already been made there. And the Honourable High Court judgment is very clear. It goes for the reason one by one...it has upheld the order of the government and all the reasons which were cited for the closure...So it is clear that the reasons are there which are very clear...The court also says one important point...that environmental concerns always have an upper hand.

"Just because it (the plant) is contributing or is part of the development does not mean that it should pollute...All the points (made by the company) do not make any meaning because it is already been argued in the court itself," Nanduri said.

Vedanta had approached the Madras High Court in February 2019, seeking to reopen the Sterlite plant which was closed following a May 23, 2018 order issued by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) against the backdrop of violent protests against the unit that left 13 people dead in police firing.

It had filed the petition in the High Court as suggested by the Supreme Court which had on February 18, 2019, set aside the National Green Tribunal order that allowed the opening of the Sterlite Plant.

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