Vedanta shuts protests-ridden copper smelter in India for 15 days

Vedanta, the London-listed natural resources company controlled by one of India’s richest men, said Tuesday it was shutting its copper smelting operations in the south of the country, for a 15-day planned maintenance.

The halt, originally scheduled for April, comes amid local media reports of massive protests around the smelter and even in front of the home of Vedanta’s chief executive Anil Agarwal in London. Demonstrators disapprove the expansion of the group’s Sterlite Copper plant at Thootukudi, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

News of the planned maintenance, originally scheduled for April, comes amid local media reports of massive protests against the Tuticorin plant expansion.

The smelter is one of the India’s biggest and has been a target of criticism and demonstrations by environmentalists, who say the operation is a major source of pollution and a risk to fisheries.

Vedanta refuses such claims. In an email statement to MINING.com, it said that both, the group and its subsidiary Sterlite Copper, were “fully compliant” with all applicable environmental regulations and committed to operating in accordance with international best practices.

“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,” Vedanta said. “A recent environmental impact assessment showed our operations are well within the stipulated standards.”

Tuticorin was closed down for about two months in 2013 after locals complained about emissions that had allegedly polluting their water and air since the smelter was established in 1996. An environmental court later ruled the smelter could continue to operate, but should take extra steps to prevent pollution.

Vedanta says it has not only implemented all of the authorities recommendations, but also that it has adopted state-of-the-art technology to improve safety and energy conservation while reducing waste.

The company, India’s largest miner and No. 1 iron ore exporter, also noted the planned expansion of the Tuticorin plant had already received all necessary regulatory clearances.