* Local pollution board may appeal if smelter re-opened
* Copper imports to India rising - adviser
* May push copper concentrate processing fees even higher
By Krishna N Das
NEW DELHI, May 8 India's biggest copper smelter
will stay shut until at least May 14 when a court will review an
environmental case again, prolonging a six-week shutdown which
is squeezing local supplies and boosting copper concentrate
processing fees in Asia.
The Sterlite Industries' plant, which meets half
of India's copper demand, was closed on March 30 after residents
complained of emissions that led to breathing problems.
Justice Swatanter Kumar of the National Green Tribunal, a
special fast-track environmental court, said on Wednesday an
expert panel's report had to be given to all parties and set the
next hearing for May 14.
The closure of the smelter, which uses imported
concentrates, has pushed about 3,000 tonnes per day of
concentrates onto the market.
The local environment authority said it might appeal to the
Supreme Court if this court decides the plant can re-open.
"Based on the judgment, we may file an appeal with the
Supreme Court," said Abdul Saleem, a lawyer for the Tamil Nadu
Pollution Control Board.
In a separate case, India's top court last month fined
Sterlite about $18 million for breaking environmental laws at
The plant produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month -
or more than half of India's total production - and nearly half
of the output goes to China.
"The closure is already having an impact, physical (copper)
supplies are getting tight, and therefore imports into India are
positively up," said Sandeep Daga, director at Regsus Consulting
Pvt. Ltd. "Even if the plant starts, it will another 2-3 weeks
to re-start production."
India's annual copper consumption was about 610,000 tonnes
for the year ending March 31, according to government data. Most
of its copper exports go to China, the world's biggest consumer
of the metal, which used up around 9 million tonnes last year.
"Copper premiums are likely to remain high and could even
possibly move up marginally as the plant will remain shut," said
a Singapore-based metals trader.
"As of now there is not much of a copper cathode requirement
from India but the longer the plant remains closed more and more
and people will start looking to cover some of their requirement
through imports," the trader added.
Cashing in on regional oversupply after the Sterlite
closure, smelters across Asia have been charging the highest
fees in five months to process concentrates.
"The impact of Sterlite's closure is that spot shipments
have increased in Asia," said a trader at an international
Spot concentrate was trading at treatment and refining
charges of about $80 per tonne and 8 cents a pound to China, up
by a third from $60 and 6 cents before the closure, added the
The charges are paid by sellers of copper concentrates to
smelters for converting the raw material into metal and then
deducted from the sale price, based on London Metal Exchange
copper prices .
Sterlite, a unit of London-listed resources conglomerate
Vedanta Resources Plc, controlled by billionaire Anil
Agarwal, has been awaiting clearances to double the capacity of
the smelter to 800,000 tonnes a year.
The smelter in the coastal town of Tuticorin near the
southern tip of India has long been the target of protesters and
politicians who say it is a risk to the local fishing industry.