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Vedanta’s Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi, whose proposed Unit 2 expansion had become one of the causes of agitations in which 13 protesters were killed in 2018, has run into a barrier now. Part of the land in the SIPCOT Industrial Complex that the company had its eye on for expansion of the copper plant has been given to an International Furniture Park project, sources say.

For capacity expansion, Sterlite Copper had been allotted 324.5 acres of land in SIPCOT Phase 2 area at Therkuveerapandiapuram village in Ottapidaram taluk of Thoothukudi. These lands were notified as industrial land through a government order dated June 14, 2005 under the Tamil Nadu Industrial Land Acquisition Act 1997. Sterlite claims that the company had also obtained the environmental clearance for these plots.

The copper smelter which had begun operations in the mid-1990s has faced several rounds of protests over the years. The last of the demonstrations was triggered by Sterlite’s plans for expansion. It spiraled into a major movement and culminated in a protest march to the Thoothukudi collectorate during which the Tamil Nadu police shot down protesters.

A writ petition filed in the Madras High Court against Sterlite’s expansion plans gives details on the land requirement for the additional smelter capacity. The document says Phase 2 of SIPCOT in Thoothukudi was proposed to cover a total land area of 1,616 hectares, of which Unit 2 of Vedanta would occupy some 300 hectares. One hectare is 2.47 acres, which means Unit 2 would have needed some 700 acres, as per Sterlite’s original plans.

Phase 2 of SIPCOT in Thoothukudi was proposed to cover a total land area of 1,616 hectares, of which Unit 2 of Vedanta would occupy some 300 hectares. One hectare is 2.47 acres, which means Unit 2 would have needed some 700 acres, as per original Sterlite plans.

The remaining SIPCOT land identified by Sterlite for its plant expansion has now officially become part of the furniture park project, sources confirm. However, the earlier allotment of 324.5 acres to Sterlite stands intact, SIPCOT officials at Thoothukudi say.

The International Furniture Park in SIPCOT Phase 2 is being set up in an area of 1,150 acres. An investment outlay of Rs 1,000 crore has been prepared to develop the park. Once operational, it will be India’s first furniture-focused industrial park.

The furniture park is expected to accommodate 100 industrial units of manufacturers, and import and export companies as well as saw mills. The government envisages this to be an end-to-end facility from manufacturing to export. Many national and international players have expressed interest in setting up operations here. Modular plots of 1 acre to 4 acres are to be allotted to the companies.

The international furniture park plans to attract investment of Rs 4,500 crore, which is expected to create employment opportunities for 3.5 lakh people. The raw materials, especially timber, are to be procured from across Tamil Nadu. Rubberwood would be sourced from 30,000 to 40,000 hectares of plantations in Kanyakumari and Theni districts. Eucalyptus tree logs are to be sourced from 50,000 to 60,000 hectares of plantations in the Nilgiris, Tenkasi and Kanyakumari districts. Agro forestry and farmers are going to be roped in for supplying timber to the furniture park.

Sterlite’s existing plant had the capacity to produce some 4 lakh tonnes of copper. Unit 2 was to have added another 4 lakh tonnes’ capacity.

As a result of Sterlite’s closure since the protests, India became a net importer of refined copper. Imports today stand at around 3 lakh tonnes per year and are likely to rise. Increased demand for copper in projects oriented towards climate change mitigation mean that India will have to step up import of the essential metal.

Sterlite’s existing plant had the capacity to produce some 4 lakh tonnes of copper. Unit 2 was to have added another 4 lakh tonnes’ capacity.

The company has appealed against a Madras High Court order upholding the state government’s ban on operating the existing plant. The Supreme Court verdict is awaited. So, while the existing plant may resume operations, its expansion to Unit 2 is now blocked by an upcoming furniture park in its path.


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