The controversial Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi is currently ‘under maintenance’ for an indefinite period of time. This after the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board refused to renew its application to extend the Consent to Operate (CTO) the plant.
This came to light in early April through a letter written by Vedanta – the parent firm of Sterlite – to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), informing them about the rejection of the application under Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) guidelines.
And now for the first time, the TNPCB has disclosed exactly why it refused to renews the Copper smelter's license. In a counter affidavit filed before the authority on Monday against Sterlite’s appeal, the board has listed reasons for now renewing the CTO.
The four primary reasons include -
1. Dumping of Copper slag
The board has accused Sterlite of dumping copper slag (it is a by-product of copper extraction by smelting) along the Uppar river and obstructing the flow of the river. This has allegedly caused flooding in residential areas nearby. Reports suggest that the firm didn't construct a physical barrier between the Uppar and a landfill and this has allowed slag to reach the river.
Hundreds of families in the region were affected due to flooding in the Uppar stream in 2015. On July 28, 2016, in a review meeting chaired by then Thoothukudi collector M Ravikumar residents reportedly blamed the copper slag on the banks of the river for their distress.
According to a show cause notice given by TNPCB to Sterlite, 3.52 lakh tons of copper slag was found dumped on the site of the water body during inspection.
2. Ground water analysis
The pollution caused by the smelter to the groundwater in the vicinity is not recorded. Sterlite, according to the board, has not furnished reports of groundwater analysis of borewells near the site.
3. Waste disposal
Sterlite allegedly generates and disposes hazardous wastes without valid authorisation.
4. Arsenic content
In addition to failing to provide data on ground water, the copper smelter has also not conducted studies to understand the arsenic content it may be generating. There is no analysis of arsenic content in the ambient air nor is there a gypsum pond constructed.
Sterlite’s counsel, according to reports, has orally stated that some of the grounds have been complied with for the CTO. It has further claimed that authroisation for hazardous waste disposal in pending with the TNPCB. The TNPCB appellate authority has fixed the next hearing in the matter of the CTO for May 17.