Sterlite Thoothukudi plant: Over 75 percent of the accumulated gypsum has been removed from the Sterlite copper smelter premises between June 26 and September 30. The remaining 30,000 metric tonnes are slated to be sold in the coming weeks, aligning with the Supreme Court’s maintenance order issued in May 2023.
A local-level monitoring committee, appointed by the district collector and consisting of nine members, is now overseeing crucial activities. This includes the evacuation of gypsum remnants, maintenance of the green belt, and the removal of wild bushes and dried trees.
Anticipation is growing among community groups and citizens, who hold hopes for a favorable outcome as the Supreme Court resumes hearing the case.
The Vedanta Group, owner of Sterlite Copper, has initiated the invitation for Expressions of Interest (EoIs) for the supply of raw materials and skilled and semi-skilled workers on a contract basis. The implementation is subject to the apex court’s decision to restart operations. Notably, preference in these EoIs will be given to local and regional players, underscoring the company’s commitment to the community’s welfare.
Trade bodies, contractors’ associations, and support groups have consistently appealed to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, MPs, and the district collector for the immediate reopening of the smelter plant. This move would not only revive employment opportunities but also sustain the livelihoods of more than 25,000 people.
The closure of Sterlite Copper has taken a toll on the local population. The plant directly and indirectly employed over one lakh people and engaged with more than 400 downstream industries, transporters, and contractors, predominantly comprising micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises.
A study by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) International disclosed that those affected by job losses have experienced a 50 percent decrease in their monthly income. Furthermore, the V.O. Chidambarnar Port at Tuticorin reported a revenue drop of nearly Rs 100 crore in the year following the plant’s closure.
The shortage in copper production has had widespread repercussions, particularly for new-age industries. In 2018, Sterlite Copper contributed nearly 40 percent of India’s copper needs. The sudden void left by its closure has compelled India to become a net copper importer, leading to a doubling of copper prices in the past four years.
Additionally, the costs for equipment in green energy generation, such as windmills, solar panels, and electric vehicles, which heavily rely on copper, have surged. This situation has impeded progress toward clean energy adoption. The closure of Sterlite Copper not only impacted India’s copper security and decarbonization goals but also hindered the country’s ‘Aatmanirbhar’ agenda.
However, there has been a shift in awareness and outlook among the public, realizing that the plant’s closure was largely influenced by agenda-driven NGOs. The future of Thoothukudi hinges significantly on the Supreme Court’s judgment. A positive outcome would propel the national and local economy, foster ancillary industries, and help India regain its standing on the world copper map. Thoothukudi is poised with anticipation for the Supreme Court’s ruling.”