* Next hearing at New Delhi bench of environmental court
* Owner Sterlite says disappointed with delay in decision
* Traders say no panic yet as there's enough copper supply
By Anupama Chandrasekaran and Krishna N Das
CHENNAI/NEW DELHI, April 29 A month-long
shutdown at India's largest copper smelter was extended for at
least another week after a state tribunal unexpectedly said it
would not rule on complaints about emissions.
The case was transferred to an environmental fast track
court in Delhi from a regional branch in Tamil Nadu state, where
the smelter is located. Two court officials in Delhi told
Reuters a hearing will take place on May 8.
The March 30 closure of the Sterlite Industries
plant, which supplies half of India's copper demand, pushed
about 3,000 tonnes per day of copper concentrates onto the
market, sending processing fees to a five-month high in Asia.
Justice M. Chockalingam of the National Green Tribunal, who
was slated to preside over the case on Monday, said
"circumstances and intervention" prevented it from being heard
in the southern state. He did not elaborate.
Output at the Sterlite facility, which produces about 30,000
tonnes a month of refined copper, nearly half of which is
exported to China, was halted after local residents complained
of emissions that resulted in breathing problems.
"The process will have to start afresh. This is unfortunate
for the judicial system," said Abdul Saleem, lawyer for the
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. "We don't know the reasons
for the transfer."
The plant has long been a target for environmental protests.
India's top court earlier this month fined Sterlite about $18
million for breaking environmental laws at the site in another
Traders had expected the smelter to get clearance to reopen,
albeit with conditions.
"No-one is panicking because of the supply glut around but
if it doesn't get resolved soon that could change," said a
Singapore-based source at a trading house. "Everyone is of the
opinion that Sterlite is going to get resolved soon, but it
doesn't seem to be turning out that way."
An expert panel inspected the smelter last week and was to
report back to the court on Monday. Chockalingam said the report
would be sent, still sealed, to the New Delhi court.
Sterlite, which also produces zinc, lead and silver, said it
"We expected some result today," said P. Ramnath, chief
executive of Sterlite's copper business.
The company has said the high emission readings occurred
when workers recalibrated sensors during maintenance.
PREMIUMS SEEN EDGING HIGHER
Sterlite, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc
, had declared force majeure on copper deliveries and
concentrate purchases after the closure of the plant.
Copper premiums in Singapore, which hit a near one-year high
early this month partly fuelled by Sterlite's halt, were
unchanged on Monday.
"Premiums might go up, just a little, but I still think it
will reopen sooner rather than later," said a second source at a
trading house in Singapore.
The setback for Sterlite comes just over a week after the
Supreme Court said it would maintain its ban on bauxite mining
in the eastern state of Odisha, putting the firm's plans there