Sterlite's copper smelter unit in TN shut down

Sterlite Industries' copper smelter in Tuticorin has been shut down under orders from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPC), in the wake of alleged gas leak from the plant on 23 March.

TNPC on Friday ordered closure of Sterlite's copper smelter in Tuticorin after protests over alleged leak of noxious gas from the plant.

The gas leak had triggered widespread protests with hundreds of people, including MDMK leader Vaiko and CPI leader Nallakkanu, being arrested on 28 March.

The gas leak caused mild suffocation, sore throat and eye irritation among people in the locality who suspected that it originated from Sterlite, which deals in sulphuric acid.

Tuticorin district collector Ashish Kumar issued a notice directing the Vedanta group company to close the plant, officials said.

The pollution control board had served notice on Sterlite on 24 March, on the basis of an inspection report by revenue divisional officer K Latha and had sought a reply from the company.

Sterlite officials, however, claimed that their plant was safe and that they followed the highest safety norms.

Sterlite denied allegations, saying the company adhered to the highest standards of environment and safety.

However, it said, ''Sterlite Tuticorin copper smelter was under shutdown maintenance since early hours of 21 March 2013 till around 10 am on 23 March 2013. In the morning hours on 23 March 2013, during plant startup, there were normal emissions within prescribed parameters and since then the plant is functioning normal.''

Sterlite said a team of government officials has already inspected the Sterlite copper plant on 23 and 24 March 2013 and has verified the plant status.

It said the district health officials have also confirmed that no case of illness was reported due to alleged gas leakage and based on preliminary report by the government officials to the district administration, the district officials have issued a press note clarifying the situation.

The Sterlite management also clarified that the unfortunate death of one contract workman of the power plant was a normal death due to accelerated hypertension and haemorrhagic stroke, which was confirmed by medical reports.

Sterlite said it has invested more than Rs500 crore in various pollution control measures, which reflects our commitment to the environment.

The Supreme Court is expected to pronounce its verdict on the fate of the Sterlite Industries' copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin on Tuesday.

The unit, which was ordered to halt its operations in 2010 by Madras High Court for violating environment norms, has been under shut-down maintenance operations when the alleged leak occurred.

Sterlite, a public limited company with 2.3 lakh shareholders and an annual turnover of Rs13,000-crore, employs 1,100 people directly and another 2,500 people indirectly.