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Supreme Court Refuses To Allow immediate Re-opening of Sterlite Plant At Thoothukudi For Experimental Run

Mehal Jain
2 Dec 2020 8:35 AM GMT
Supreme Court Refuses To Allow immediate Re-opening of Sterlite Plant At Thoothukudi For Experimental Run
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The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, refused to grant interim relief to Vedanta Ltd., rejecting the mining giant's plea for an immediate reopening of its Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi for an experimental run for 2, 4 or 6 weeks.The company had moved the top court following the Madras High Court verdict in August that dismissed Vedanta's writ petition to reopen its copper smelter and upheld...

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The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, refused to grant interim relief to Vedanta Ltd., rejecting the mining giant's plea for an immediate reopening of its Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi for an experimental run for 2, 4 or 6 weeks.

The company had moved the top court following the Madras High Court verdict in August that dismissed Vedanta's writ petition to reopen its copper smelter and upheld the state government's decision to shut it down. The bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman, Navin Sinha and K. M. Joseph listed the appeal against the Madras High Court decision for hearing in January next year.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for the petitioner, advanced that the plant, when it was operational, directly employed 4,000 people, and indirectly contributed to the employment of 20,000 people, besides the two lakh others in the downstream industry, who have now been affected on account of the closure of a plan for 30 months- "The plant accounted for 36% of the country's copper need. Its closure has made us a net importer of copper. This huge national wastage can be curbed by allowing the plan to run on an experimental basis"

"Please Look at the nature of the grounds for the closure. Each of the arguments for the closure can be best judged by observing the functioning of the plant on its reopening. Allowing it to run for 2 to 3 months is the best solution. What is the public interest that I am harming by running my plant on an experimental basis under Your Lordships' scrutiny?", he contended.

"The first argument for closure was that the groundwater analysis report has not been furnished! The second ground was that I have put slag along the banks of the river and that of a barrier to obstruct the flow of the river. The barrier has been in place for ages. Also, the slag was put by somebody else who has permission from the High Court to further sell it. It is only on the reopening of the plant can it be said if I am stopping the flow of the river or not...The further allegations are in connection with the National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) and Air Quality Index (AQI). Let me operate for two months and see if I meet the standards?", argued Dr. Singhvi.

"There is no finding of the High Court that I have caused pollution. I have been shut for 30 months. Can this country afford to shut up a plant that accounts for 36% of its production, with this kind of employment, especially when it seeks to run and be tested by the Supreme Court of this country? I am not a charitable institution, I am also of course looking at my own interest!", pressed Dr. Singhvi.

Senior Advocates K. V. Vishwanath and C. S. Vaidyanathan for the state of Tamil Nadu and and State Pollution Control Board countered this submission- "The order of closure of the government was challenged in the High Court and it was upheld. The industry has been polluting consistently and throughout. The situation has in fact worsened after Your Lordships had allowed it to operate in 2013. They had said that they will remedy but they did not do anything of the sort. The expectations have not been met. It is my prayer that until the findings are set aside, Your Lordships do not allow them to operate"

"Even in 2013, when Your Lordships had allowed the plant to re-open, it was because Your Lordships had opined that it is a different thing for the High Court to close and a different thing for the regulator to close it. You had stated that we are reopening it but the regulator can come to its own conclusions!", it was urged.

"The wealth of the country is being destroyed! Drinking water is being contaminated! People are suffering from cancer and other serious diseases! The health status of hundreds of villagers has been brought on record as to how they have suffered on account of this plant! The plant is a chronic defaulter! They have no regard for the law! When it rains, the slag seeps into the river, thousands of people have been affected by the slag! It is a red industry plant, it can never be allowed to operate in a residential zone even if they tinker around with it to make some changes!", it was pressed.

"We have never applied for an experimental run of 2 or 4 or 6 weeks either before the High Court or before this court. Even if we are causing pollution, then why are Mr. Vishwanath and Mr. Vaidyanathan worried about us reopening for four weeks. This is the best way to prove or disprove the allegation! Also, there are 113 such red industries and 26 others for power sites, none of which have been closed. Red industry is only a categorisation; it is not a closure order", submitted Dr. Singhvi.

Ultimately, the bench ruled that the relief cannot be granted and dismissed the plea.


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