Vedanta, the holding company of Sterlite Copper, has claimed that at least eight tanks of sulphuric acid left unattended in its sealed copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi could lead to a catastrophe.
The company also claimed that the sulphuric acid leak, which was detected on Saturday evening and described as “minor” by Thoothukudi Collector Sandeep Nanduri, could have been an act of sabotage, with minimal security posted at the unit.
Plea to restore power
In a petition before the Madras HC (Madurai Bench) seeking immediate restoration of electricity supply to Sterlite Copper, the company said other inflammable materials needed to be removed immediately.
“A continuous monitoring of the plant is necessary. If acid comes in contact with water, it will cause vigorous reactions,” the petition by Sterlite general manager (Legal) A. Satyapriya said.
Following an inspection, the leak was found in the pipe flanges.
The leak could not be arrested as the pipe flanges are submerged in the acid pool in the dykes around the storage tank. The acid needs to be cleared immediately, the petition said.
It sought the restoration of electricity to dispose of the inflammable materials, waste and chemicals. Besides, it sought adequate manpower and security not only for removing the materials but also for continuous monitoring of the plant so that the extent of the leak could be assessed.
The petition alleged that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), in a ‘knee-jerk reaction’, without any prior notice issued an order to close and disconnect power supply. TNPCB had failed to verify if any production was on, the company claimed.
TANGEDCO complied with the order for disconnection of power and then issued a notice to the company. This was against the stipulated statutory safeguards, the petition charged.
It claimed that the immediate shutdown posed a threat to the employees and the environment as machines, raw materials including hazardous chemicals and products were stored inside the plant complex.
Though a representation was made immediately, seeking at least a minimal restoration of power to maintain emergency services, it was not heeded, the petition alleged.
Powerless to act
Without electricity emergency support services such as fire hydrants, acid circulation pumps and other safety systems which store gases, liquids, oils, acids and resin cannot be operated. It would also not be possible to use storm and effluent water pumps, in case heavy rains were to flood the plant, the company alleged.
Taking up the petition for hearing, a Division Bench of Justices C.T. Selvam and A.M. Basheer Ahamed adjourned the case to June 25 after Additional Advocate General K. Chellapandian sought time to get instructions in this regard.