CHENNAI: India became a net importer of copper in 2018-19 following the closure of Vedanta’s copper smelter plant in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu since May 2018, Mines, Coal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Pralhad Joshi informed Parliament on Wednesday. The plant had an annual capacity of four lakh tonnes per annum. The minister said after the closure, the country imported 44,373 tonnes of copper during 2018-19, as against being a net exporter of 3,34,310 tonnes of copper in 2017-18.
This is because copper consumption in India is growing at 10% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) and at this rate, the per capita copper consumption is likely to be doubled by 2026. The current per capita consumption stands at an abysmal low of 0.5 kg, compared to global and Chinese intake. India currently has 10 lakh tonnes domestic capacity of copper, which is 2.5% of world capacity, according to Indian Primary Copper Producers’ Association (IPCPA).
The import of refined copper has also increased from 44,245 tonnes in 2017-18 to 92,290 tonnes in 2018-19, whereas its exports declined from 3,78,555 tonnes in 2017-18 to 47,917 tonnes in 2018-19. Major players like Adani Group and Vedanta Ltd have firmed up plans to instal new smelting units. Besides Sterlite, other major players are Hindustan Copper and Hindalco Industries.
Joshi made the statement in his written replies to Lok Sabha MPs, PK Kunhalikutty and Gaurav Gogoi, who had asked questions over India’s copper imports. The copper smelter in Tuticorin was established by Sterlite Copper, a unit part of the Vedanta group. It was closed by the state government in May 2018, after protests against functioning of the smelter turned violent and several people lost their lives in police firing.
Replying to a question raised by Kunhalikutty, Joshi said the closure of the Tutucorin plant had affected the domestic production of refined copper. He further elaborated that as Vedanta Limited has filed a writ petition before Madras High Court in February 2019, challenging the orders of the State of Tamil Nadu and TNPCB, the matter is sub-judice.