Court rejects Vedanta’s plea to restart India’s biggest copper smelter

The Madras High Court of India has rejected Vedanta’s plea to restart its Tuticorin copper complex, which has been closed since 2018.

The long-awaited verdict came on Tuesday August 19 to uphold an earlier decision to keep the 400,000 tonne-per-year copper complex in Tamil Nadu closed with no access to electricity.

In 2018, 13 locals were killed in a shooting incident during a protest against water and air pollution in the area. The plant, operated by Vedanta’s subsidiary Sterlite, was ordered to be shut permanently although Vedanta described the order as a political decision.

In the 815-page verdict, judges said: “It is incorrect to state that the protest led to the closure, but the closure was ordered as pollution continued, despite remedial steps stated to have been taken by the petitioner.”

The judges also dismissed the closure order as a political decision, Fastmarkets understands.

“If the petitioner makes a statement that the order of closure is for political consideration, then it needs to be examined as to how the petitioner was able to secure an approval from the State Government in 14 days for establishing this hazardous industry in Thoothukudi when they were unable to do so in two other states in India,” according to page 730 of the document.

The controversy lies in the treatment of several substances found in the nearby river, including copper slag and gypsum, which was contended by Vedanta not to be hazardous. The court, however, ruled Vedanta’s submission as “incorrect.”

Tuticorin’s closure in May 2018 has led to many changes in the global copper market, including turning India into a net importer of copper cathode and pushing up premiums in the region at the time.

A separate writ was filed to the court in 2019 requesting Vedanta demolish the Tutocorin plant and restore the land to its original state, Fastmarkets understands.

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