May 24, 2018 / 9:30 AM / a month ago

Indian state seeks permanent closure of Vedanta's copper smelter: officials

THOOTHUKUDI, India (Reuters) - India’s Tamil Nadu state said on Thursday that it was seeking a permanent closure of a big copper smelter run by London-listed Vedanta Resources after 13 people died in protests demanding the closure of the plant on environmental grounds.

Charred vehicles are pictured near a government office, after at least 13 people were killed when police fired on protesters seeking closure of plant on environmental grounds in town of Thoothukudi in southern state of Tamil Nadu on Tuesday, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Sudarshan Varadhan

“The government’s position is very clear, it doesn’t want the plant to run,” said Sandeep Nanduri, the top official of the district where the plant is located, after a meeting with senior state government officials.

Other state officials confirmed the government’s position.

On Tuesday, police opened fire on protesters demanding that the smelter in the port city of Thoothukudi be shut down. In all, 13 protesters have been killed this week.

Residents and environmental activists say emissions from the plant, India’s second biggest, are polluting the air and water, affecting people’s health.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest, after at least 13 people were killed when police fired on protesters seeking closure of plant on environmental grounds in town of Thoothukudi in southern state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai, India, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/P.Ravikumar

Earlier on Thursday, authorities cut the power to the smelter. The pollution control board of Tamil Nadu said the smelter, which was shut pending renewal of its operating license, was found last week to be preparing to resume production without permission.

A company spokesman did not respond to a Reuters’ email seeking comment on Tamil Nadu’s closure plan and the allegation that it had been preparing to resume production without approvals.

In a statement late on Thursday, it said only that it was working with authorities to restore power to the plant, which has been offline since March 27.

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The company has previously denied that the smelter has been polluting the air and water.

“The issue of renewal of consent for the year 2018-2023 has been rejected ... due to non compliance of certain conditions,” the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) said in an order dated Wednesday.

It did not elaborate on the conditions the smelter had not met but said it “shall be disconnected with power supply and closed with immediate effect”.

The agency told Vedanta it could not resume operations without permission.

The copper smelter contributed about 5.4 percent to the company’s consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in its financial year 2017-18, Vedanta said.

On Thursday, Vedanta’s Indian stock closed down 2 percent.

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel, Martin Howell and Anil D'Silva

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