The closing of the copper smelter at Thoothukudi owned by Vedanta Resources Sterlite following Church-sponsored protests that lead to violence, is now taking a toll on the balance sheet of the Indian economy.
Responding to a question asked by PK Kunhalikutty, Member of Parliament for Malappuram parliamentray constituency belonging to the Indian Union Muslim League, the Minister of Mines Prahlad Joshi mentioned that there was a drop in domestic copper production that has led to a domino effect of increasing imports and sluggish exports, quoting the CARE Ratings published in September 2019.
To another question posed by Rajya Sabha Member Majeed Memon belonging to the NCP, the Minister replied that India had become a net importer of copper for the first time in the last two decades. He went on to say that imports more than doubled for the fiscal year 2018-19 to 92,990 tonnes when compared to 44,245 tonnes for the previous fiscal.
The foreign exchange lost for the 2018-19 year was $ 605.20 million against $ 294.95 million in 2017-18. Earnings from refined copper exports dropped from $ 2435.57 million to $ 302.27 million. In terms of volume exports, there was a drastic fall from 3.78 lakh tonnes to 47,917 tonnes.
To the question on increase in cancer cases in Coimbatore, Kanchipuram and Thoothukudi, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare responded that the 3 cities showed an increase in age adjusted incident rate, citing the data from National Cancer Registry Programme.
Thoothukudi came under national spotlight after violent protests broke out leading to the death of 13 persons in police firing on the 100th day of protest. It was alleged that the Sterlite plant was causing pollution in the industrial city. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board withdrew its clearance for the operation of the plant following which Vendanta appealed in the in the NGT against its closure. The NGT quashed the order of the State government and TNPCB's. The Supreme Court however overruled NGT's verdict and gave the option of approaching the Madras High Court to Sterlite. The case is now pending with the Madras High Court.
It is to be noted that it was the erstwhile DMK government in 2010 when MK Stalin was the industry minister of the state that gave permission for Sterlite Copper plant expansion for which the then government had allotted 230 acres of land.