In his first media interview since the violent protests at the Sterlite Copper smelter in Tuticorin, Anil Agarwal, chairman, Vedanta Resources, alludes to vested interests behind the tragic events. India produces only 2% of the world’s copper, and the rest is supplied by Canada, the Middle East, and Europe. “Right from day one, I have been saying this that this happens only in India. All the time, people take advantage of our democracy,” Agarwal tells ET’s Vatsala Gaur and Satish John in an exclusive interaction over the telephone from London.
“Copper is the most auspicious material; the world can’t run without copper. The people who make copper will be relishing that they can now use our country as their market,” Agarwal rued. “Hum log zindagi bhar import karte rahenge kya (Will we keep importing all our lives)?” That is my question.”
Q) More than a dozen people have died protesting against the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant. How do you address such a tragedy?
I am saddened by the loss of 13 innocent lives. It took place a few kilometres away from our plant. Vedanta as a responsible corporate citizen and on humanitarian grounds, we will extend all possible support to families of the deceased and severely injured. The basic premise of the protest was unfortunate, as the plant was non-operational, awaiting Consent to Operate from TNPCB. False propaganda dominated over the truth, and we will continue to bring out the truth to the general public.
Q) Did the company fail to read the situation?
It is unfortunate what happened about 5 km away from our plants. When we had the information that something like this was being planned for the 22nd, we reached out to the court and the court was quick to inform the local administration for it to be prepared… and section 144 was imposed.
I’m ready to have an independent agency to look at it. I will completely abide by the law of the land. I will come forward if something is found amiss because I am very confident that we have zero discharge (from the plant). If some independent agency comes in to verify, they are most welcome.
Q) The key contention of protestors is that effluents are harming the ecology and also the community’s health…
We are open to scrutiny by any independent technical committee either from India or from any part of the world to prove that Sterlite Copper is among the best smelters in the world with world class environmental practices. We follow zero harm, zero discharge and zero waste policy across units.
Q) What do you think is the cause for protest by locals and how do you propose to mitigate it?
We believe that lack of awareness among various stakeholders has been the key reason for such opposition and fake activists have used this to their advantage by spreading fake news. Even before the protests started, we had the practice to invite people from various walks of life to visit our factory and witness first hand the best practices; on the same lines, we had even extended the invitation to several activists and leaders but none of them visited. We are open to meeting and clarifying the ..
Q) Are you disappointed with the Tamil Nadu government for the way it has handled the issue?
It is not right to point fingers at anybody in this situation as whatever has happened is unprecedented and everyone was caught unaware by the course taken by the protestors. Many factions within the protestors were willing to have a discussion and get their doubts clarified about the project but the separatists have hijacked their agenda in a violent manner.
My request is to keep business away from politics. I fully agree with the fact that we need a strong government but we need to keep business away from politics. All over the world, successful economies don’t mix politics with business. Having said that, it is very important for the government to get to the bottom of this episode.