Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Appoints New CEO Amid Battle To Reopen Smelter

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Sterlite Copper in Thoothukudi was forced to shut its plant by Tamil Nadu in May last year.

New Delhi:

Vedanta Ltd on Friday named metals industry veteran Pankaj Kumar as Sterlite Copper chief executive, amid struggles to reopen its smelter in Tamil Nadu that was shut last May after police killed 13 demonstrators protesting against the plant.

Sterlite Copper, which operates a 400,000-tonne-per-year smelter in Thoothukudi, was forced to shut its plant by Tamil Nadu in May 2017, and is estimated to have lost more than $200 million since.

Mr Kumar replaces P Ramnath, who led Sterlite for eight years. Under Mr Ramnath, the smelter was ordered shut at least twice, including for an alleged gas leak in 2013.

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Local residents and environmental activists have staged protests against the plant over allegations of pollution as well as the earlier gas leak. Vedanta says the claims of pollution are false, without any factual basis. It also denied being the source of the gas leak.

The chief executive replacement comes amid a drawn-out legal battle over the smelter that could be complicated further by the national elections that start on April 11. The two main political parties in Tamil Nadu are against reopening the smelter, increasing the likelihood that the shutdown will continue.

Vedanta won a judgment in December from the National Green Tribunal that would have cleared the way to reopen the smelter, but the Supreme Court ruled in February that the environmental court did not have jurisdiction over the smelter.

"My tenure as the CEO has been an eventful journey, and as is the case with any journey, there have been numerous ups and downs," Mr Ramnath, who will continue as an advisor to the company, said in a statement.

Mr Kumar, who will also oversee operations at Vedanta's Malco Energy Limited and Fujairah Gold, has worked at Hindustan Zinc, Tata Steel and Adani Ports, in a career stretching over 29 years.

Mr Kumar was also chief operating officer at Sterlite Copper in the past, the company said.

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