Tamil Nadu

Sterlite plant closure: It’s no longer business as usual

A view of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. File

A view of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. File   | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

A number of stakeholders have submitted petitions to the Collector seeking the reopening of the Sterlite Copper plant.

They said that the closure of the plant had hit jobs in the district. They also claimed that the protests had been “instigated” by groups such as Makkal Athigaram.

Residents claim that these petitions are stage-managed by the company, and add that there’s been no change of mind. “I find the water to be a lot cleaner now. It doesn’t cause any skin irritation,” says a woman at Kumarettiyapuram, a village close to the plant where the protests started. “We’ll continue to oppose the plant.”

Charges that the Sterlite copper smelter factory had been polluting the groundwater and the air were among the reasons for the protest march against the factory.

But there are some who rue the shutdown. “My son used to work at the plant, and get some ₹500-800. Now he works for another industry where he gets only ₹300-400,” says K.N. Muthusamy, a resident of Therku Veerapandiyapuram. Sterlite also provided medical aid, he adds.

The company continues to employ about 1,300 people on a permanent basis, while reports say that over 3,500 were employed on a contract basis.

The industrial climate in Thoothukudi is a shadow of its former self. A number of thermal power plants have either closed down or are winding down operations, bringing down the district’s power output of over 4,000 MW to less than half in the last few years. This is on account of a reasons such as low demand, changes in purchase power agreements, and unpaid dues for purchases.

Besides the fact that copper prices have risen due to the closure of Sterlite Copper, which holds a 35% share of the market in the country, a number of other companies that bought its byproducts have also been affected.

Prices soar

A senior industry source said that companies like SPIC, which used to buy nearly 5,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid over a period of six months, are now importing it. The prices, which were pegged at ₹4,000-5,000 per tonne, have now risen to ₹14,000-15,000 per tonne.

Similarly, prices of another raw material, phosphoric acid, otherwise priced at ₹40,000 per tonne, have increased to ₹50,000-58,000.

Further, a number of downstream companies such as detergent and leather industries have either scaled down operations or shut shop. Traffic at the V.O. Chidambaranar Port has also been hit. In 2017-18, Sterlite accounted for 26.3 lakh tonnes of the total traffic at the port.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 5:38:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/its-no-longer-business-as-usual/article24782421.ece

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