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SC Issues Notice On Vedanta Plea To Reopen Sterlite Plant In Tamil Nadu; Refuses Stay On HC Order

Nilashish Chaudhary
1 Sep 2020 3:20 AM GMT
SC Issues Notice On Vedanta Plea To Reopen Sterlite Plant In Tamil Nadu; Refuses Stay On HC Order
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The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice in a plea filed by Vedanta Sterlite Copper seeking reopening of the copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

A Bench comprising of Justices RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee sought a response from the Tamil Nadu government in the appeal filed by Vedanta Ltd against the High Court Order refusing to allow its plea seeking reopening of the plant in Thoothukudi.

However, the Court refused to grant interim relief in the form of immediate stay of the High Court's decision. Posting the matter for hearing after four weeks, Justice Nariman asked Vedanta to argue its case for interim relief on that date.

Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Aryama Sundaram argued that the factory was in poor condition and urged the Court to allow personnel to enter the premises to inspect the situation.

"The factory is in dire straits…please protect me from coercive steps of the Tamil Nadu Government", prayed Sundaram.

However, Justice Nariman was not inclined to take any action immediately. Affirming the same, he stated, "we are not going to do anything today".

The Madras High Court on August 18 had dismissed a batch of writ petitions filed by Vedanta Limited, against closure of its Sertlite Copper Plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, and other consequential orders passed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.

The Division Bench comprising Justices TS Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan junked the Company's plea for reopening of its plant based on the submissions that Petitioner is a "chronic polluter" and that there had been several complaints against operation of its plant, over the years.

In April 2018, the State Pollution Control Board had declined to renew the plant's Consent to Operate certificate for failing to adhere to the prescribed conditions.

On May 22, police resorted to firing to disperse a group of protestors gathered against renewal of the plant's certificates, which proved fatal. Subsequently, the Forests and Environment Department of the state government on May 28 directed the permanent closure of the plant.
The company had argued that closure of its plant was a "knee-jerk reaction" to the fatal-firing incident, which killed 13 protestors.

In December 2018, the NGT had permitted reopening of the plant which was set aside by the Supreme Court in February 2019, holding that the NGT did not have jurisdiction in the matter, especially when an appeal was already pending before the appellate authority.

Accordingly, Vendata had approached the Madras HC, seeking permission to re-open its plant.

It was contended before the High Court that the National Air Quality Index of Thoothukudi indicated that the region around the plant was "safer than Chennai" and that the plant had been closed only to appease the protestors. It was further argued that reopening of its plant was highly supported by downstream industries and the local population.

The High Court however rejected these submissions, based on a compilation filed by the State Pollution Control Board, adjudging the credibility of the petitioner and its commitment towards environment.

The authorities had highlighted that the company was a "chronic polluter" and there were several complaints lodged against it, not only by the public, but also political parties, Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The Court noted that Thoothukudi is the only District in Tamil Nadu which finds place in the 2019 list of most polluted cities in the Country, as per a report of the Government of India, prepared under the National Clean Air Programme.

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