Exploring options to ensure plant and assets are best utilised, says company.

Putting an end to its efforts of reopening the Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta has decided to sell it and has invited expression of interest (EoI) from interested parties.

Through a newspaper advertisement published on Monday, the company has invited “financially competent” players to submit EoIs by July 4. The bid was invited in conjunction with Axis Capital.

“The Tuticorin plant is a national asset which has been catering to 40 per cent 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 growing demand of the nation,” said a Vedanta spokesperson.

Sterlite Copper had stopped production at the smelter and refining complex in 2018, after protests broke out against the company’s plan to expand its capacity from 400,000 tonnes to 800,000 tonnes led to police firing that killed around 13 people and left around 102 people injured.

Since the firing in May 2018 the unit remained closed following an order issued by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

Local community

The local fishing community in Thoothukudi, however, has called for the shifting of the plant from the area, instead of selling it to someone else. “We see it as a ploy to bring in some other player and restart the operations in another form. We want complete replacement of the unit and not any sale,” said Maria Rajabose Reegan, coordinator, Country Boat Fisherman Association, Thoothukudi.

The Vedanta group has faced similar protests elsewhere too. Its copper subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) faced resistance in the Zambian copper belt, where locals protested against its mines and smelters. In 2013, tribal communities in Odisha had turned down a proposal from Vedanta Aluminium to mine the Niyamgiri hills for bauxite. In Goa, too, the company had faced public ire, leading to the stoppage of iron ore mining.

Economic impact

India, which used to be an exporter of copper before the Sterlite unit was shut down, has become a net importer now. The plant used to produce approximately 40 per cent of India’s copper demand and contributed around Rs 2,500 crore to the exchequer, 12 per cent of the Thoothukudi port’s revenue, and 95 per cent market share of sulphuric acid in Tamil Nadu, the company’s advertisement said on Monday. It used to directly employ around 5,000 people and another 25,000 indirectly.

India’s copper exports fell from 419 KT (thousand tonnes) in financial year 2017-18 (FY18) to 87 KT in FY22 and imports rose from 215 KT in FY18 to 241 KT in FY22. The country incurred forex outflow of $1.2 billion in FY22 on account of copper imports. With a projected annual demand of around 1.1 million tonnes, India is looking at a further outflow of forex as copper’s price on the London Metal Exchange (LME) breached $9,000 per MT last year.

Source : Business-Standard