New Delhi: Vedanta Ltd on Tuesday said it will set up a new steel plant in Jharkhand with a capacity of 4.5-million-tonne-per-annum at an investment of $3-4 billion. The plant will be part of the company’s newly-acquired Electrosteel Steels Ltd (ESL) at Bokaro, Vedanta Resources chairman Anil Agarwal said.

“This would be a new steel plant under ESL and in the same location at Bokaro, so it’s a brownfield investment per se. The amount is likely to be to the tune of $3-4 billion for a capacity of 4.5 million tonnes (MT),” Agarwal said.

Vedanta would initially invest around $300 million to augment Electrosteel Steels’s capacity to 2.5 MT from the existing 1.5 MT. Once the new facility is commissioned, the total capacity of Electrosteel Steels would be around 7 MT, Agarwal said, without elaborating on the time frame.

The plant would create 1,20,000 jobs in the form of direct and indirect employment, he added. “We have about 2,200 acres at ESL and are scouting for a little more... The Jharkhand government has been very cooperative in this regard.” 

In March, Vedanta was declared as the successful resolution applicant for ESL under the corporate insolvency resolution process. The company acquired control of Electrosteel Steels and a new board of directors was put in place.

Activism backed by missionaries

Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu raked controversy earlier this year when the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered the closure of the company's Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi in May.

The Tamil Nadu government had, on May 28, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and "permanently" close the mining group's copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had set aside the Tamil Nadu government's order to permanently close mining company Vedanta Ltd's Sterlite Copper plant, saying it was "non-sustainable" and "unjustified".

What was the controversy?

Locals had been protesting against Sterlite’s copper smelting unit in Thoothukudi, asking it to shut down as it was spreading poisonous gases into the air, causing environmental damage. The company has already been facing accusations for violating environmental regulations. The fresh protest triggered after the company allegedly continued expansion, despite no approval.

What happened on May 22-23?

A protest was called by the locals and during a rally on May 22 against Sterlite, violence broke out when protesters moved up to an intersection on Palayamkottai Road. As the cops had already imposed prohibitory orders and permission to protest was denied by the police, protesters allegedly hurled stones at the policemen. In retaliation, the police also fired on the crowd. A total of 13 people including a 17-year-old girl were killed in police firing.

Role of Christian NGOs in Sterlite protest 

One of the two key players behind the protests - Mohan C Lazarus – is a fundamentalist Christian evangelist with political weight. When the protests gathered momentum, traders were forced to down shutters on orders from churches in Tuticorin. Lazarus approached priests in churches, following which they asked traders of their community to go ahead with the shutdown plan.

Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told an international publication that the agitators at Kudankulam were being funded by agencies from foreign countries. “Dr Manmohan Singh had said that the NGOs in Thirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts were receiving funds from organisations based in the United States of America and Scandinavian countries. The money was channelled mainly through the church-based NGOs namely Tuticorin Diocese Association and Tuticorin Multipurpose Social Service Society,” found the Vedic Science Research Centre, the content of whose paper matched a similar report by the director general of police (Tamil Nadu) submitted to the Madras High Court.

A FirstPost report dated February 2012 reads, "The NGOs that are at the centre of the latest action haven’t been named, but they are believed to be those associated with Bishop Yvon Ambroise, the Tuticorin church leader, who has been active in mobilising popular support for the protests at Kudankulam. Two of the NGOs associated with Ambroise - the Tuticorin Diocese Association (TDA) and the Tuticorin Multipurpose Social Service Society (TMSSS) – have been working in the area of fishermen’s livelihood, and their support for the anti-nuclear agitation draws on the fears to the fisherfolks’ livelihood from the nuclear power plant."

Other instances

  • In 2015, a Hindu woman was kidnapped in Nawadih village in Jharkhand and forcefully converted to Islam and married off to a Muslim man.
  • Sixteen members of an organisation with alleged links to Christian missionaries have been arrested for allegedly trying "religious conversions" in Jharkhand's Dumka district in July. When asked about the organisation they were working for, one of the accused said they were "associated" with Christian missionaries. 

Sterlite Copper on Saturday announced it would move the Supreme Court to implement the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to reopen the facility in Tuticorin.