NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top copper smelter can reopen as scheduled and operate until at least the second week of July, when an expert panel will submit a report on the safety and environmental aspects of its operations, a Supreme Court judge said.
The smelter, run by Sterlite Industries STRL.NS, a unit of London-listed Vedanta (VED.L), was shut on March 30 after nearby residents complained of emissions that led to breathing problems.
The reopening of the plant, along with the end of a 35-day long shutdown of Hindalco Industries Ltd's (HALC.NS) Birla smelter, will gradually ease a supply shortage that has boosted imports and prices for the metal.
A further hearing will take place after the panel of experts submits its report, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra said.
The local pollution board in Tamil Nadu, which had originally ordered the smelter to shut at the end of March, took the case to the top court after the country's fast-track environmental court ruled against it.
The environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, said on May 31 the plant could reopen within a week in the presence of the expert panel.
The plant is yet to reopen as the expert panel has not met yet, a Sterlite source told Reuters on Monday.
"People are still waiting to see when they actually restart," said a Singapore-based physical trader. "The legal issue might be for the time being behind them, but now they have to start the plant, stabilise it, get the cathodes going into the rod plant."
Sterlite has said that it would take about five days to ramp up the plant to full capacity after it restarts.
The closure of the plant, which produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month, or more than half of India's total production, has put cable makers such as Finolex Cables Ltd (FNXC.NS) and Precision Wires India Ltd (PRWR.NS) in a tight spot.
Vedanta has been exporting 4,000 tonnes of refined copper a month from Dubai to help some of Sterlite's customers offset the supply loss.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Krishna N Das in New Delhi and Melanie Burton in Singapore; Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Muralikumar Anantharaman)
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