By Krishna N Das
NEW DELHI, July 15 (Reuters) - India's top copper smelter
can stay open, but should take extra steps to prevent pollution,
an environmental court said on Monday, ensuring that over half
of the country's output of the metal stays on stream.
The Sterlite Industries plant, which produces
30,000 tonnes of copper per month, was shut for more than two
months from March 30 after complaints from residents over
emissions, forcing India to increase imports of copper.
The plant re-opened on June 16 after an interim order from
the court. Sterlite, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources
Plc, says the plant's emissions are not above prescribed
Judge Swatanter Kumar said an expert committee found no
instance of emissions beyond set limits but asked Sterlite to
take additional anti-pollution measures, such as regular
maintenance and better air-quality monitoring.
Sterlite's shares closed up about 3 percent after the
verdict, though the company's legal hassles are not over yet.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a previous appeal of
the local pollution board requesting the closure of the plant.
The closure of the plant had forced Vedanta to export 4,000
tonnes of refined copper per month from Dubai to customers of
Vedanta would continue to export these quantities until
production stabilises at the India plant, P. Ramnath, chief
executive of Sterlite Copper, told Reuters.
The Sterlite smelter has long been the target of protesters
and politicians who call it a risk to fisheries in the coastal
town of Tuticorin, near the southern tip of India.
Several cases have been filed against Sterlite since the
plant started in 1996. In a different case, India's top court in
April fined the company about $18 million for breaking
environmental laws at the smelter.
Sterlite, whose parent is controlled by billionaire Anil
Agarwal, has been waiting for government clearances to double
the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes a year.
India's cable makers such as Finolex Cables Ltd
and Precision Wires India Ltd have traditionally
bought copper from the two biggest producers, Sterlite and
Hindalco Industries Ltd.