Appeal lodged against Sterlite copper smelter reopening

NEW DELHI Thu Jun 6, 2013 1:38pm IST

A general view shows Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant in Tuticorin, April 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

A general view shows Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant in Tuticorin, April 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top copper smelter faces another hurdle in reopening from a two-month shutdown after a local authority lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court seeking to keep it closed, a lawyer told Reuters on Thursday.

The smelter, run by Sterlite Industries, a unit of London-listed Vedanta (VED.L), uses imported concentrates and produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month, more than half of India's total production. Its closure has squeezed domestic copper supplies and boosted imports.

The local pollution board in Tamil Nadu, which had originally ordered the smelter to shut at the end of March after complaints of emissions, has now taken its case to the Supreme Court.

"The top court's vacation bench is likely to hear our case on Friday," said Abdul Saleem, a lawyer for the Pollution Control Board. The court's regular justices are now on holiday.

On May 31, a fast-track environmental court said the smelter could resume operations overseen by a court-appointed panel.

"We will continue with our process to reopen the smelter until and unless the Supreme Court stays the order of the National Green Tribunal," a Sterlite source told Reuters, adding the plant is expected to reopen "any time now".

A Singapore-based physical trader said any delay to a restart would be "more misery for Indian copper consumers".

"We can sell copper rod for premiums of $220 pretty easily now, but we can also sell $250 for smaller volumes," he said.

A routine shutdown of Hindalco Industries Ltd's (HALC.NS) Birla smelter, India's second largest, has exacerbated the shortage of copper mainly for India's cable industry.

The smelter, shut for maintenance on May 7, was expected to reopen in early June, Hindalco Managing Director D. Bhattacharya said late last month. He declined to give a date and a spokeswoman on Thursday could not immediately say if the smelter has restarted. (Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Singapore; Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Ron Popeski)

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