The management of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi has submitted an 18-page writ petition at the Madurai High Court demanding restoration of power supply at the plant to deal with the sulphuric acid leak. The smelter has told the court that the sulphuric acid leak in the plant which the district administration has called 'minor' could in fact pose 'grave risk and danger' to the unit and the area surrounding it.
"The petitioner found that there is a severe leakage from pipe flanges and the same cannot be arrested as the pipe flanges are submerged in acid pool collected in the dykes provided around the acid storage tank," says Sterlite. "The Petitioner therefore addressed communication dated 16.06.2018 and 17.06.2018 to the 8th Respondent, requesting urgent intervention in the matter and once again sought minimum supply of electricity and manpower to evacuate the acid at the earliest," argues Sterlite.
Sterlite further alleges that the leakage is an act of sabotage and says, "there is currently insufficient security in and around the plant and there is thus a grave risk and danger especially because there are other tanks as well as flammable materials within the same area."
The copper smelter warns of catastrophic consequences due to the district administration's 'indifference'.
"The plant has a further 7-8 tanks of sulphuric acid, which if left unattended could result in similar leakages and thus graver consequences to the plant itself and surrounding areas. A disaster at the plant would have very serious repercussions and the authorities are turning a deaf ear to the repeated entreaties of the petitioner and its employees. Further, due to the tense situation prevailing and the Government's stated objective of permanently closing the plant, its (Sterlite) employees and officers are unable to even secure an appointment with the Government officials," says the petitioner.
According to Sterlite, the unit produces 1 million MT of sulphuric acid per annum. The tanks and associated pipelines they are held in, have to be monitored regularly to observe any signs of leakages. If the acid which leaks comes in contact with water, which is possible during the rains, it could cause a vigorous reaction releasing high amount of heat and fumes.
"Any such catastrophe would result in not only grave loss of lives and assets in and around the plant premises, but would also be of dire consequence to the environment in as much as the chances of the acid seeping into the soil and water are high," the company warns.
Citing the above reasons, Sterlite has requested immediate access to the unit to examine the remaining storage facilities. They have alleged that the government and district administration have disconnected electricity without taking into account the necessary maintenance work.
It has accused the government of 'public appeasement' and apprehended a serious and palpable threat to the safety of the plant and adjoining areas in the face of the leak.