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STERLITE: A welcome initiative by CIC

In the cover feature of our July issue, we pointed to the indifference of the business community and industry associations keeping mum over the burning issue of Sterlite Industries. Belatedly FICCI expressed some concern. On 20 July, the Chennai International Centre (CIC) presented P Ramnath, CEO, Sterlite Copper, D Nagasaila, environmental advocate and S Ramanathan, IPS, former IG of Police, to present their perspectives. M K Narayanan, former National Security Adviser of India, moderated the programme. It did provide the platform to hear different viewpoints.

On fake news and facts…

In a detailed presentation, Ramnath provided information on the vast range of activities of the Vedanta Group headquartered in London, the group has vast interests in mining aluminum, copper, iron ore, zinc, lead, silver, oil and gas and refining these as also in the generation of power. The close involvement of the company touching and transforming the lives of over 2.5 lakh people of Tuticorin, with significant production of copper, sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid…and the contribution to the economies of the district, state and country were explained by him.

With rich data Ramnath sought to dispel false information purveyed by several political leaders, environmental activists and other interests. The counter to the accusation of the company contributing to the incidence of cancer in Tuticorin was strong and convincing: Ramnath pointed to no such incidence reported from the company’s thousands of employees, direct and indirect and to Tuticorin ranked the 14th in the incidence of cancer among all the districts of the state. He mentioned that his company contributed just one per cent of SO2 emissions and had an effective treatment system for this; but the coal-fired thermal stations estimated to contribute to most of such emissions did not even have systems to treat the emissions, he pointed out. He laboured hard in countering fake news projected through the social and other media.

The presentation of advocate Nagasaila demanded another hearing by the Supreme Court. As pointed out by Ramnath, there should be a finality of issues after the Supreme Court ruling on the subject. She expressed doubts over the capacities of the IIT and IIM trained experts.

In his introductory remark, M K Narayanan described the issues.

In a detailed analysis in our earlier feature, we pointed to the issue getting deeply politicised and in the agitation-rich state, many jumping into the bandwagon without in-depth knowledge or understanding of the issues involved. There was a free-for-all during the interactive session with the new executive director acting as the moderator and the seasoned police officer M K Narayanan keeping mum.

We suggested the ideal course would been:

  • to appoint a committee of experts including environmentalists to look objectively on the issues.
  • to analyse the importance of the unit that has been meeting a significant portion of the demand for vital copper, sulphuric and phos. acid from a variety of industries.
  • to assess the impact of the closure of the plant on the livelihood of several thousand dependent on the unit. These include those directly employed with a large multiple of these numbers engaged in a vast range of support services like transportation, handling…
  • to weigh the impact of such closure on investments and jobs in Tamil Nadu; on the revenues of the port, the municipal corporation, the state…

To understand the implications of foreign trade: increased imports and loss of exports; Sterlite Industries has been meeting around 40 per cent of the copper needs of the country. Already stoppage of production has resulted in a big spurt in prices. Not much of new capacity is immediately in the pipeline. In our article on calcium carbide published in our February 2018 issue, we had highlighted how the indigenous manufacture of calcium carbide was annihilated by competition from China. Should this also happen to the copper industry?

We also pointed to the lack of sensitivity on the part of Sterlite Industries: its failure to effectively address the concerns of the community around; failure of effective communication with policymakers, industry associations, and leaders from academia, politics… and importantly, with media. – SV

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