Closure of Sterlite Copper turns India into a net importer of refined copper

Sterlite Copper was shut in 2018 over pollution concerns

The closure of Vedanta Ltd’s Tuticorin copper smelter in May 2018 has turned India into a net importer of refined copper, according to newly released government data.

While India was a net exporter of refined copper to the extent of 3.34 lakh tonnes in the year ended March 2018 (prior to the shut down); the country has turned into a net importer since then.

India was a net importer of 44,373 tonnes of refined copper in the year ended March 2019, while imports rose to 1.15 lakh tonnes in the year ended March 2020.

This is primarily on account of the shutdown of a huge plant in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu due to pollution and health concerns in May 2018.

The Sterlite Copper plant of Vedanta Ltd used to single-handedly produce around 4 lakh tonnes of copper — or about half the total refined copper produced in India.

The country’s production of refined copper — used for industrial uses as well as for wiring and other electrical applications — halved to 4.1 lakh tonnes in FY2019-20 from 8.3 lakh tonnes in the year before the plant was shut down.

The plant was originally supposed to have been set up in Zadgaon in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. However, it was moved to Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu following local opposition.

The plant functioned for around 21 years, from 1998 to 2018, but was shut down due to widespread protests by locals alleging ground water and air pollution.