Madras HC Grants Interim Stay On Construction Of Vedanta Group's Sterlite Copper Plant In Thoothukudi [Read Order]

Madras HC Grants Interim Stay On Construction Of Vedanta Group

In the aftermath of the police shooting that killed eleven protesters, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday directed Vedanta to stop the construction of Unit II of its Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi in south Tamil Nadu.

The Bench comprising Justice M. Sundar and Justice Anita Sumanth allowed a Petition filed by one Ms. Fatima, who had alleged that Environmental Clearance (EC) had been granted to Vedanta without the conduct of a public hearing- a requirement which was necessary under the Environmental Impact Notification dated 14.09.2006.

This requirement, she now submitted, had been waived on the incorrect representation by Vedanta that the Unit was to be located within the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) Industrial Park, Phase II which had been submitted to have itself been granted approval. The Petitioner, as it turns out, found out that Phase II of SIPCOT Industrial Park has not received approval till date.

Examining the material on record, the Court was of the prima facie understanding that the Phase II of SIPCOT Industrial Park is, in fact, awaiting approval, and that "the public is entitled to be heard in regard to their apprehensions to the project".

It then refused to allow Vedanta's submission to continue with the construction till December, when the EC approval was set to expire, observing, "We are afraid we fail to see the merit in this submission, as in our view, it lacks vision, and tantamounts to putting the cart before the horse. It might have been quite another matter had there been a substantial period of the approval still remaining.

However, what remains is a mere seven months. Admittedly, the process of scrutiny of Vedanta’s renewal application as well as the public consultative process has already commenced. In such circumstances, we see no reason to permit Vedanta to continue with construction activities investing substantial resources by way of effort, money and materials. We cannot, under any circumstances, be party to what might well be a national waste of precious resources."

In the light of these observations, the Court directed that the application of renewal of EC submitted by Vedanta shall be processed expeditiously after conducting a mandatory public hearing. The authorities were directed to decide the application within a period of four months, i.e. on or before 23 September. Till then, the construction at the plant has been stayed.

Lastly, the Bench highlighted the importance that had to be given to conserving the environment, and the ideology that had guided it, observing, "While, on the one hand, the economic benefits of encouraging industries cannot be ignored, the toll extracted on available resources, water and soil regimes by such industries, cannot also be lost sight of. There is thus yet another stakeholder before us, one that is invisible in the array of parties, the environment in itself. In balancing the interests of all parties to this Public Interest Litigation, we believe that the interests of this hapless party be treated on par, if not paramount.

Mr. Ramchandra Guha, historian and environmentalist says in his tome, ‘Environmentalism’ that India is in the midst of the ‘Age of Ecological Arrogance’. Various rules, regulations and memoranda issued over the years by the State are targeted to address this arrogance and bring a modicum of responsibility to our treatment of this very fragile asset, India’s ecology and environment. We must do what is necessary to ensure that the environmental movement stays its course and that, we believe, is what we have now done."

Read the Order Here