The decision of Vedanta Ltd to sell its 4,00,000 ton per annum (tpa) copper smelter plant and refining complex at Tuticorin gives a bad signal for any prospective investors in the city as well as in Tamil Nadu, said businessmen.
The copper smelter plant complex is known as Sterlite Copper.
They also said investors would think twice before investing in Tuticorin.
“The protest against the Sterlite Copper’s closure three years back is well known now the world over. With the company’s decision to sell its plant and other assets, new investors may not come to Tuticorin,” I. Lenin, President, Thoothukudi Industrial Suppliers Association told IANS.
Vendors to Sterlite Copper were taken by surprise at the smelter plant’s sell off announcement by Vedanta on Monday.
“The transport industry has been severely affected ever since Sterlite Copper was closed down in 2018. About 400 lorry owners were impacted and many were forced to reduce their fleet size by selling the trucks,” S. Murugan, Joint Secretary, Thoothukudi Lorry Owners Association, told IANS.
Not only the lorry operators, but also several others like the labourers, shops, servants, provision stores, local transport operators were also affected by the closure of the copper smelter plant, Murugan added.
Businessmen said three thermal power plants and a couple of other factories in Tuticorin were not functional for a long time and it was the business from Sterlite Copper that sustained them.
“We used to change our truck tyres every three months when Sterlite Copper was functional, which means the tyre industry too did well,” Murugan remarked.
Lenin and Murugan said the Tamil Nadu government could have offered Vedanta an alternate site for relocating the smelter plant.
The businessmen also said Tuticorin may not be an attractive investment destination following the Sterlite Copper episode.
“The state government should have taken stringent action in case of environment violations and should have allowed Sterlite Copper to function,” Murugan and Lenin said.
The exit of Sterlite Copper from Tuticorin will give a boost to the non-government organisations (NGO) to start targeting other major industries in the state.
Further the Sterlite Copper episode will also deter future investors from investing in Tuticorin where a new furniture park is being set up, businessmen in Tuticorin added.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin had laid the foundation stone for the 1,156 crore furniture park. The government expects the furniture park to attract about Rs 4,500 crore investment.
On Monday, Vedanta along with Axis Capital had called for Expression of Interest (EoI) for its smelter complex (primary and secondary), sulphuric acid plant, copper refinery, continuous copper rod plant, phosphoric acid plant, effluent treatment plant, 160 MW captive power plant, reverse osmosis units, oxygen generation unit and residential complex with amenities.
According to Vedanta, the plant produces about 40 per cent of the country’s demand for copper and contributes about Rs 2,500 crore per annum to the exchequer and 12 per cent of Tuticorin Port’s revenue.
Vedanta said the closure of Tuticorin copper smelter plant has had a ripple effect in terms of imports and livelihoods.
“Post closure, India has become a net importer of copper for the first time in 18 years, with copper imports growing 3X while exports have plunged by 90 per cent. We are continuing to explore all legal avenues towards achieving a sustainable solution to the closure,” the company had said.
The Tamil Nadu government had ordered the copper smelter plant to be shut down in 2018 following a violent protest that led to the death of 13 persons in police firing.
The 4,00,000 ton Sterlite Copper smelter plant that has been operating in Tuticorin for over 25 years with a cumulative investment of about Rs 3,000 crore.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)