Tuticorin plant accounted for less than 1% of sulphur dioxide emissions: Sterlite Copper CEO


The main sources of sulphur dioxide pollution in the Tuticorin area are the various government-owned and private sector power plants in the area, responsible for more than 99% of the sulphur dioxide emitted, according to P. Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper. The recent violence was likely spurred by “fringe elements” with their own agendas, he added.
He added that the copper plant shut down in the area supplied 35% of the country’s domestic demand for purified copper, and that this would now have to be imported.
“One myth I would like to address is that over sulphur dioxide,” Mr. Ramnath said in an interview. “We capture 99.9% of our sulphur dioxide emissions and convert it to sulphuric acid, which is one of the products we sell. We sell about six lakh tonnes of sulphuric acid and use another six lakh tonnes for our own internal purposes. It makes commercial sense for us to use the sulphur dioxide we emit.”
According to data provided by Sterlite Copper, the Tuticorin area is home to 2050 MW of government-owned power plants and 1977 MW of private sector power plants, including Vedanta’s 160 MW plant. The data goes on to show that the Sterlite’s copper smelter accounts for 0.92% of sulphur dioxide emissions in the area, while the power plants account for more than 99% of the emissions.
Are they operating legally?
“Their argument has consistently been that there are other pollutants,” environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman told The Hindu. “The issue over here is not the legality or illegality of the other companies. The issue is whether Sterlite is operating legally or not. If they are operating legally, then nobody can touch it. If they are operating illegally, it doesn’t matter if others are operating legally or illegally.”
Mr. Jayaraman went on to point out other areas — such as the chimney stack height, the amount of land the plant is supposed to cover, and the green belt it is meant to have — where the company is deficient and in contravention of the environmental norms.
“Ulterior motives and fringe elements”
Regarding the causes of the recent violent protests that took place around the issue of the Sterlite copper smelting plant, Mr. Ramnath said that several issues could have been at play, including NGOs with ulterior motives, and fringe elements with their own agendas who contributed to the violence.
“We feel that the community has been misled in terms of the various allegations that have been put,” Mr. Ramnath said. “NGOs have their own agenda. The apparent agenda is to save the environment and save the people but behind there can be a lot of things. There have been several NGOs whose funding has been stopped under FCRA recently. They can have various ulterior motives, there could be global competitors who don’t want India to be a front-runner.”
“And then there are a lot of fringe elements that join for their own agendas,” he added. “In this whole issue, the entire violence is because of the fringe elements that have joined some time later. Otherwise, why would you find normal members of the public going around with petrol bombs, do they know how to fashion petrol bombs, or country-made bombs?”
According to Mr. Ramnath, the now-closed Sterlite copper plant accounted for 35% of the domestic demand for refined copper, and that the closure would mean that customers would now need to rely on imports, which would result in a large amount of foreign exchange leaving the country.
“Supply will become an issue because we were supplying about 250,000 tonnes to the domestic market, which works out to 35% of the requirement of refined copper in the country,” Mr. Ramnath said. “So, all those customers will have to look at other sources and it’s not going to be cheap. Already prices have gone up about 8-10%. There will be a huge forex outflow because copper will have to be imported.”


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