They were opposing expansion plans, says chief operating officer A. Sumathi
Sterlite Copper chief operating officer A. Sumathi on Thursday claimed that ‘external forces’ were responsible for the problems faced by the copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi, which eventually led to a mass protest and the police firing in which 13 persons were killed. This led to the plant’s closure in May 2018.
“They were opposing the plant’s expansion,” said Ms. Sumathi, who has been with the company for 25 years. At that point, the company was planning to ramp up its capacity from 4 lakh tonnes to 8 lakh tonnes, and the stock exchanges were informed of the plan.
According to her, as soon as this news went out, “these external forces were meeting the local people and NGOs” from February 2018. Asked who these external forces were, she said that as the matter was in court, it would not be appropriate for her to divulge the details.
Asked about pollution and other issues, Ms. Sumathi said there were issues before 2013 but nothing came up after 2013. “The technology used were the best and the plant followed international standards.”
She said the local people wanted the plant re-opened as the economy in that area had shrunk after it was closed. “Closing down is not the solution. We are open to dialogues which will help us improve operations. Constructive dialogue is the way out,” she said.
According to her, the main pollution concern at Thoothukudi was not sulphur di-oxide; it was the levels of dust. She said this emerged from a study conducted by the Centre for Climate Change and Adaption Research, Anna University. The study, she said, pointed out that PM10 mainly came from the mineral dust containing silica owing to the re-suspension of road dust.
Since closure, the Sterlite Copper plant at Thoothukudi has been incurring a loss of ₹5 crore a day. A lot of water has entered the plant during the recent rain. Ms. Sumathi said ₹800 crore-₹1,000 crore would be required to revamp the plant, if and when the permission came.
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