The National Green Tribunal on Saturday set aside the order passed by the Tamil Nadu government closing Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin.
“…we allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorization to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for the protection of the environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today. The appellant will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations,” ordered a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice A K Goel.
The bench, however, expressly stated that its order will be subject to Vedanta complying with the following directions on ‘Precautionary Principle’ in the larger interest of safeguarding environment:
i.The appellant unit to create a dedicated and interactive website with participatory Public Forum wherein the affected stakeholders can lodge their environmental related grievance for the time bound redressal and disposal by unit. This website should be widely publicized and have links with the website of the District Administration, TNPCB and CPCB which shall be the oversight body to monitor such public grievances and its timely disposal.
(ii). The appellant unit to regularly monitor the ground water quality as mandated by TNPCB and upload the data in comprehensible form without fail on the website…Failure of timely analysis and uploading of the same shall result in appellant unit paying an environmental compensation at the rate of Rs. 10 Lakhs for every default with the District Legal Services which shall maintain a separate account for the same and supervise its spending in matters like environmental education and awareness.
(iii). The appellant unit shall also deposit a sum of Rs. 2.5 Crores as a token amount for their failures for Extended Procedures Liability for inappropriate handling 3.5 lakhs M.T of Copper Slag on patta lands with the State Legal Services Authority for creating and maintaining the environmental awareness in the area through the District Legal Services Authority by preparing a comprehensive action plan.
(iv). The appellant unit shall give timelines for effective compliance with respect to “Conclusions” in the report of (NGT-appointed) Committee at Sr. No. 4(e), 4(f) and 4(g) and the same shall be uploaded on the said website. The progress thereof shall be monitored not only by general public through Public Forum but also by the oversight body comprising of District Administration, TNPCB and CPCB. Any noncompliance with regard to non-adherence to timelines shall entail an environmental compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs per default.
(v). The appellant unit shall ensure effective and environmentally safe management of Copper Concentrate, Sulphuric Acid including its leakage, leachate management of Gypsum Pond leachate and stored Copper Sulphate electrolyte etc. The District Administration and appellant unit shall prepare off-site and on-site Emergency Plans respectively and upload these plans on said website and conduct regular mock drills towards meeting environmental emergency in case of any environmental accident/incident.
(vi). In addition to above, the safe handling of effluents and emissions including solid waste should be done by a monitoring group comprising of TNPCB, CPCB, and representative of District Administration at regular intervals and have the same uploaded on the said website in comprehensible form for creating awareness on functioning and environmental performance of appellant unit
During the hearing, Senior Counsel C A Sundaram, appearing for Vedanta, made the statement that the company was willing to spend further amount of Rs. 100 Crores for welfare activities for the inhabitants of the area as a goodwill measure. The amount may be spent on projects like water supply, hospital and health services and skill development in the area.
“We take the statement on record and in view of the said statement, we direct the Appellant Unit to spend the amount of Rs. 100 Crores within a period of three year for welfare of the inhabitants in the area. The action plan prepared for utilization of the amount be got approved from MoEF&CC which may also oversee the compliance thereof. Such action plan and progress achieved in implementation of said plan may also be uploaded on the said website for the purpose of dissemination,” the bench said.
As regard with bench’s direction to give timelines for effective compliance with respect to “Conclusions” in the report of Committee at Sr. No. 4(e), 4(f) and 4(g), the conclusions are --
e) Copper slag dumped at all the eleven sites including the Uppar River should be removed. If copper slag has been used for landfill purposes, then the excess amount of the slag over and above the level of ground would be removed and thereafter the landfill should be compacted with one feet of soil, so that the copper slag is not blown away by the strong winds.
f) The dead stock of copper slag lying in the dump yard inside the factory premises which has solidified should be removed in a time bound manner. Thereafter, the bottom of the dump yard and the side walls should be covered with HDPE liner. Further, the Company should ensure that the generation and disposal of copper slag is maintained in the ratio of 1:1 and that the Company at best, can retain 10 days generation of copper slag in its dump yard.
g) The dead stock of gypsum lying in the dump yard inside the factory premises which has solidified should be removed in a time bound manner. Thereafter, the bottom of the dump yard and the side walls should be covered with HDPE liner. Further, the Company should ensure that the generation and disposal of gypsum is maintained in the ratio of 1:1 and that the Company at best, can retain 10 days generation of gypsum in its dump yard.
The orders of the NGT follows the report of its three-member committee which had concluded that the order of the Tamil Nadu government closing down the Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi was not sustainable and the ground mentioned in it were “not that grievous to justify permanent closure of the factory”.
“On the basis of the site visit, public hearing and after hearing the appellant Company, State of Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, and the interveners and, upon consideration of the issues raised, the Committee is of the opinion: The impugned orders cannot be sustained as it is against the principles of natural justice.
“No notice or opportunity of hearing was given to the appellant. The grounds mentioned in the impugned orders are not that grievous to justify permanent closure of the factory. Other issues raised also does not justify the closure of the factory even if the appellant was found to be violating the conditions/ norms/ directions,” the committee had said in its report
The copper smelter plant at State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (SIPCOT), Industrial Complex, Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu was closed down by the government with TNPCB on May 28 ordering permanent sealing of the plant after a wide-spread protest by locals against the proposed expansion in the plant and the health hazards.
Read the Order Here