Protests in India against Vedanta's copper smelter

Local media in India report that hundreds of people gathered in the Tuticorin district, which is located in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, to protest against Vedanta’s (LON:VED) Sterlite copper plant.

The protesters were asking authorities and the company to stop expanding the smelter and to shut it down. They say that, for more than two decades, gas emissions and effluents from the facility have been polluting groundwater in the area, all of which has caused an increase in serious diseases among the residents of surrounding villages.

According to the Press Trust of India, many shops in the area remained closed in response to a business strike called by 50 associations in support of the protesters.

The rally took place on Saturday, just one month after 250 people were arrested in the same district for holding a hunger strike against the plant’s expansion.

Activists have been ramping up protest actions as Vedanta’s plan to double the smelter's capacity from 400kt to 800kt p.a in 24 months has just started. “Completion of this project will make the Tuticorin smelter one of the world’s largest single-location copper smelting complexes,” the company has said in corporate statements.

Such expansion goal worries many citizens who still recall that back in 2013, the Tamil Nadu’s Pollution Control Board had to close the plant after a sensor in the smelter’s smokestack showed sulphur dioxide levels were more than double the permitted concentration at the time.

A few days later, India’s Supreme Court allowed the plant to restart operations. However, the company had to pay a fine of over $15 million for polluting the surrounding land and water sources and, according to the press, for running the smelter without approval for a considerable period of time.

MINING.com reached out to Vedanta India for comment on the protesters’ allegations but did not receive a response by publication time.

A day after this article was published, that is Monday, March 26, 2018, the company sent the following statement:

“Vedanta Resources and its subsidiary Sterlite Copper are fully compliant with all applicable environmental regulations and committed to operating in accordance with international best practice. Our processes are tested against international standards such as the IFC’s Performance Standards, applied to the entire lifecycle of all our operations. The 'Zero Discharge' concept has been a key focus by Sterlite Copper since the inception of the Tuticorin plant, and achieving a zero harm environment is an essential goal and a top priority for our business. A recent environmental impact assessment showed our operations are well within the stipulated standards. The Tuticorin plant expansion has received all necessary regulatory clearances and our primary focus is ensuring the wellbeing of local communities around our operations. The plant will use state-of-the-art technology to improve safety and energy conservation while reducing waste, and will be self-reliant for its water and power requirements. In addition, the project is a major local employer and plays an important part in improving socio-economic conditions in the region.”