In a surprising move, the Vedanta Group has invited expression of interest for its Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi, which has been under lock and key since 2018 amid protests from the local people and a police firing.
“Vedanta, in conjunction with Axis Capital, invites expressions of interest for the sale of its copper plant along with its other units, which includes the smelter complex (primary and secondary), sulphuric acid plant, copper refinery, continuous copper rod plant, phosphoric acid plant, effluent treatment plant, captive power plants, reverse osmosis units, oxygen generation unit and residential complex,” the company said in an advertisement on Monday.
The last date to submit the EOI is July 4, 2022.
The Thoothukudi plant has an installed capacity of 4,00,000 Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MTPA) at the integrated copper smelter and refinery, with another 4,00,000 MTPA under expansion.
When the plant was operational, it provided employment to over 5,000 people directly and to another 25,000 indirectly through the value chain. It also produced approximately 40% of India’s demand for copper and contributed around ₹2,500 crore to the exchequer; 12% of the Thoothukudi port’s revenue; and 95% of the market share for sulphuric acid in Tamil Nadu. The company claimed that Vedanta was committed to the State and its people with the aim to contribute towards its development and revenue and employment generation.
The announcement came as a surprise, as in the last few years, officials from Sterlite Copper had been meeting several people and insisting that closing the plant, selling it or moving away from Tamil Nadu was not on the cards. Sources in Thoothukudi said no one was aware of the move to sell it till now. The company spokesperson later sent out a message which said, “The Tuticorin plant is a national asset which has been catering to 40% of our national demand for copper and has played an integral role towards India’s self-sufficiency in copper. In the best interest of the country and the people of Tamil Nadu, we are exploring options to make sure that the plant and the assets are best utilised to meet the growing copper demand of the nation.”
Since its closure, the plant has been incurring a loss of ₹5 crore a day. The company officials recently said ₹800 crore-₹1,000 crore would be required to revamp the plant, if and when permission for its reopening was given.
Following massive protests, which led to the death of 13 persons in a police firing, the plant was shut down on May 28, 2018. The protesters wanted the plant to be closed due to issues pertaining to pollution.
Vedanta then moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which, in its December 2018 verdict, permitted the company to reopen the plant. The Tamil Nadu government immediately moved the Supreme Court, which stayed the NGT order.