Tamil Nadu order to close Sterlite plant against natural justice: NGT panel

Pollution control board didn’t give company enough notice, says committee; Vedanta, state can make submissions December 7

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 28 November 2018
Sterlite Copper plant.
The pollution control board didn’t give the company enough notice, says committee. Credit: Sterlite Industries The pollution control board didn’t give the company enough notice, says committee. Credit: Sterlite Industries

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Wednesday said the Tamil Nadu government’s order to shut down Sterlite Industries’ copper plant in Thoothukudi could not be upheld, according to media reports.

The sealing of the Vedanta Ltd-owned copper smelting plant without a notice was against “natural justice”, the tribunal stated citing the report of a three-member expert committee headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agarwal.

Calling it a “favourable development”, Vedanta counsel and Supreme Court Senior Advocate Ariama Sundaram said the committee has also suggested constant monitoring of ground water and “will also adhere to all suggested norms.

The developments are being seen as a setback for the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam government. The ToI report quoted a source in environmental non-government organization Poovulagin Nanbargal as saying that the state acted in haste despite Opposition parties urging for fool-proof action. The ruling party denied the charge though.

The court will hear the matter again December 7, when both parties would be able to put forth their submissions. Little was discussed Wednesday on whether the plant was polluting and violated environmental norms.

The Thoothukudi plant was widely opposed by locals as well as the wider civil society. Protests were ongoing this year, seeking the closure of the plant. On May 22—the 100th day of the protests—the police opened fire, killing 13 demonstrators and drawing national and international focus onto the issue. Six days later, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), ordered that the plant be shut and power supply be disconnected.

Vedanta approached the NGT to stay the TNPCB order and settle the matter. The state approached the Supreme Court questioning the NGT accepting Vedanta’s challenge to its order, but the apex court dismissed the review petition Monday.

Apart from the case at the NGT, the matter is also being heard at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.

Sterlite Copper's survival despite being shutdown five times in the past two decades owes much to India's malleable regulatory authorities.

Earlier, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) conducted multiple studies on the environmental impact of the plant and brought out detailed reports in 1998, 1999, 2003,2005 and 2011. Though the first report was highly critical of Sterlite, the organisation’s stance soon changed. These were used in a case filed in the Madras HC in 1996. In 2010, the court ordered for the plant’s closure but it was stayed by the Supreme Court. Eventually, due to another clean chit by NEERI in its final report, the apex court didn’t uphold the HC order and let the company go with a Rs 100-crore fine. 

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