The National Green Tribunal (NGT), looking at the closure of the Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Tuticorin or Thoothukudi, last week said that the Tamil Nadu government's orders to close the plant could not be sustained as they went against the principles of natural justice. The move seems to have come as a temporary relief to the Sterlite unit.
This stems from the view that a proper procedure was needed to be followed in the matter. Giving his take on the matter to Business Today, P Ramnath, CEO, Sterlite Copper says, "The committee has given its recommendation and we have to see how the Tribunal takes it up. The committee has done a thorough job having heard all the sides -- the interveners, the NGOs, the government and us -having seen the situation on the ground, and then giving their recommendation."
He further pointed out that such a large manufacturing unit was sealed without giving us any show cause or other advance notice, which just cannot be done without following proper procedure.
So, what is next now?
The next hearing with NGT is scheduled for December 7, and the company will wait for its decision before it makes its next move. "We have already made our representation. We and pollution control board both have produced so much data in the previous hearings, but it has been made very clear that whatever data they have produced was not sufficient to prove that the unit is polluting," he says, adding that there is nothing to show that the plant needs to be closed down.
"Of course there is always some room for improvement and we are open to it as we have been in the past. In fact, we have made several improvements in the past on our own also. We have spent more than Rs 500 crore on various measures."
On dealing with the closure and issues around it and what next, he says, "We are looking at the overall cost to the nation, what the state has lost in terms of (the need to) make in India (but bringing in) lot of imports when we have manufacturing units within the country. Plus, a lot of downstream industry is suffering."
On copper prices continuing to remain depressed, Ramnath says that it has to do with international trade such as the US-China trade war; but Sterlite Copper is talking about premiums. "People have to pay higher premiums. There are a lot of units in Coimbatore and Tuticorin that had to be shut down because of lack of raw material." The unit itself has 800 employees. "We are engaging them through various means that are allowed to us." The unit, Ramnath says, used to do 30,000 tonnes of copper per month and that has stopped since May this year after the anti-Sterlite plant protests took a violent turn.