By Sudarshan Varadhan
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Ground water in Vedanta Resources’ south Indian copper smelter contains heavy metals exceeding limits for drinking water, India’s junior minister for water resources, Arjun Ram Meghwal, told lawmakers on Monday.
The smelter was shut down in May under order of the Tamil Nadu state government after 13 people died after coming under police fire during violent protests over alleged pollution.
The Vedanta subsidiary that operates the Thoothukudi smelter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Vedanta, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, has previously denied that the smelter is responsible for pollution and described the closure of the plant it had operated for more than 22 years as an “unfortunate development”.
“We will study the order and decide on the future course of action,” Vedanta said in May.
The analysis of ground water samples showed the presence of iron, lead, fluoride, cadmium and nickel above the permissible limit for drinking water, Meghwal said, citing information provided by the federal pollution regulator.
Meghwal also said that a study by the Central Ground Water Board revealed that most ground water samples around the industrial area in Thoothukudi were contaminated.
“The study indicates that most of the ground water samples are contaminated with high TDS (totally dissolved solids) and heavy metals like lead, cadmium, chromium, manganese, iron and arsenic, which are beyond permissible limits,” Meghwal said.
A lawyer for the state’s pollution regulator this month told the federal environmental court that long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking increases the risk of cancer among residents of villages near the smelter.
Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary has sought an injunction against the Tamil Nadu state government to stop it interfering with the operations of its copper smelter and has asked an environmental court to set aside the order to shut the plant permanently.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by David Goodman)