March 22 2019
‘Closing down firms will not help local economy’
16 April 2018

Will engage locals to meet situation: Sterlite Copper CEO

With the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) rejecting the application of Sterlite Copper seeking renewal of its consent to operate its plant at Thoothukudi, the Vedanta Group unit finds itself facing a fresh challenge. Since its inception several summers ago, the copper smelter project in the port town had witnessed testing times. When it is in the midst of a ₹2,500-crore expansion plan to double capacity, problems have begun to revisit the unit. Some locals and green brigades have mounted a campaign against the expansion on the ground that the smelter had been a source of pollution and risk to fisheries. The denial of consent, in the meanwhile, to operate the existing plant by the TNPCB for want of more clarifications had further complicated situation for the company. Against this backdrop, P. Ramnath, chief executive officer of Sterlite Copper, shared his thoughts about the current situation. Edited excerpts:

How is it that a company of your size has not been successful in tackling the opposition through genuine dialogue?

Both parties have to participate for a dialogue to commence. Given the current situation, it will take some time, and we understand that. Just because we have a few contextual differences, it does not make them our opposition.

We have been operating in Tuticorin [Thoothukudi] for 20 years, and that is, indeed, a testimony of their support. We are also reaching out to the community on a daily basis. Our efforts are to keep the channels of communication open so that a win-win solution can be arrived at for all parties. We encourage community members and other interested parties to come and talk to us to arrive at an early resolution to the current situation.

Has there been any attempt to enter into an institutional dialogue to address the concerns?

We are trying to create more awareness among community through various media. We have also openly invited people to visit our plant. We are very willing and open to engage with communities regarding their concerns, but for a dialogue to happen, both the parties should be willing to participate.

The plant shut-down — how far is it driven by regular upkeep? Or, is it occasioned by the ongoing protests? What is the update on CTO (consent to operate)?

The plant was under regular maintenance, which is a planned activity once in every three to four years. The consent to operate for our existing smelter was expiring on 31st March 2018, and we had applied to TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) 60 days in advance for renewal of the same. On 9th April 2018, we received a communication rejecting the application for want of more clarifications. We are now working on providing the clarifications to TNPCB.

What could be the loss — if at all — due to the opposition?

Since the shut-down of the plant for maintenance activities is planned, the current situation has not impacted our overall business. But, it has certainly affected our community programmes, which is a loss for all citizen of Tuticorin, including us.

What is the way forward?

Dialogue is the way forward. We will continue to engage with all our local stakeholders to address the current situation and are confident of arriving at an amicable solution.

What are the remedies available to you at the moment?

We have seen that in the current situation there has been a lot of misrepresentation of facts, which has fuelled the protests. Our efforts are to move people away from half-truths to understanding the complete picture. Our efforts are on-going in that direction, and we feel that truth will prevail. We also believe that dialogue is the only sustainable way forward. It will allow both parties to reach a solution that is a win-win for all. Closing down of companies does not help the local economy. We want to take forward the growth story of Tamil Nadu.

We have been one of the few companies which have been very positive on Tamil Nadu and its potential, and want to play a key role in this journey along with citizens of this State.



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