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India closes copper plant after deadly rally

May 28, 2018

Indian officials have ordered the closure of the nation's second-largest copper smelting plant, owned by UK-based Vedanta, due to fears of pollution. Police killed 13 people in recent protests aimed at closing the plant.

Copper plant in Thoothukudi aka Tuticorin
Image: Reuters

The controversial copper plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu was permanently sealed on Monday, less than a week after security forces opened fire on demonstrators who claimed the smelting site was polluting air and groundwater.

State authorities said the decision to close the plant was made in the "larger public interest."

The facility in the port town of Thoothukudi is the second-largest of its kind in India, with an annual output of over 400,000 tons per year.

For years, management has managed to stave off claims of pollution despite mass protests in the city.

The dispute came to a head when protesters marched towards a government building on Tuesday with police shooting at the crowd, killing 13 people and wounding over 40 more.

The UK-based Vedanta company claims it had evacuated some 3,500 employees due to tensions. State authorities have ordered a probe into the violence.

Tamil Nadu closes copper plant

CEO Agarwal denies accusations

On Monday, a small crowd of locals gathered at the plant's entrance to cheer the state official who sealed its doors.

"We are finally free, we could have been happier if so many people had not died," driver Muthu Pandi told the Reuters news agency. "This is for all of them."

The plant was closed for maintenance in March, pending the renewal of its license from the pollution board. Vedanta chairman, Indian-born billionaire Anil Agarwal, has since claimed he was confident his plant had "zero discharge."

"I'm ready to have an independent agency to look at it," he told the Economic Times. "I will completely abide by the law of the land."

Protesters burn an effigy of Anil Agarwal
Protesters burned an effigy of Anil Agarwal during the protestsImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Sankar

On Monday, the company told Reuters that the closure of the plant after 22 years of operation was an "unfortunate development."

"We will study the order and decide on the future course of action," Vedanta said in a statement.

The company previously pledged to legally challenge any decision to shut it down.

dj/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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