Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant, which is facing intense protests over its failure to follow environmental norms, is a business unit of Vedanta Limited, formerly known as Sesa Sterlite Limited/Sesa Goa Limited. Vedanta Limited is one of the world’s largest diversified natural resource majors with operations in zinc-lead-silver, oil and gas, iron ore, copper, aluminium and commercial power.
The company has units in Tamil Nadu and in the Union Territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. It operates a 400,000 metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) copper smelter as well as a 160 MW coal-based power plant in Thoothkudi (Tuticorin). Apart from this, it has two copper rods plants in Silvassa — one in Chincpada and another in Piparia. Tuticorin, a coastal city, hosts one of the biggest ports in the country, aiding the company’s operations.
Protests against Sterlite Copper’s operations, which began nearly two decades ago, intensified earlier this year after the company announced expansion of its plant, entailing a doubling of the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year. At least nine people were killed in police firing on Tuesday, as 15,000 people marched towards the collectorate demanding closure of the plant. Residents claim the plant’s operations have contaminated the ground water in the area, causing severe health problems.
Vedanta maintains that it has ensured the safety of residents living within its periphery. In a recent press release, the company stated that the project ensures “uninterrupted drinking water” for households in the area.
Vedanta’s Sterlite and Aditya Birla Group’s Hindalco Industries Ltd are the two biggest copper producers in India. Alongside Hindustan Copper Ltd, a central government public sector unit that has the capacity to produce 99,500 tonnes of copper per year, Hindalco Industries and Sterlite dominate India’s copper market. Hindalco has a capacity to produce 5 lakh tonnes and Sterlite 4 lakh tonnes of copper annually at present.