SC proposes expert panel to inspect closed Vedanta group plant in Tamil Nadu

PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 14-02-2024 20:08 IST | Created: 14-02-2024 19:59 IST
SC proposes expert panel to inspect closed Vedanta group plant in Tamil Nadu
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday proposed a panel of domain experts to inspect the closed Sterlite copper unit in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin and suggest further compliances and way forward, saying shutting down a plant of “national importance” will not serve anybody’s purpose.

The plant is closed since May 2018 after 13 people were killed as police opened fire to quell a protest over alleged pollution caused by it.

The top court, while hearing a plea by the Vedanta group company, mooted the idea of setting up of a panel of experts and sought views of the firm, the Tamil Nadu government and the state pollution control board.

“Ultimately, shutting down the plant of national importance will not serve anybody’s purpose,” a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra observed.

The bench, however, made it clear that it cannot grant permission to the firm to “refurbish” the plant as an interim order.

The bench, which heard the submissions of senior advocate Shyam Divan on behalf of the Vedanta group firm, said since the matter pertains to the state's public interest, private interest of an industry, and employment of several people, a way forward has to be found out.

“So how do we find a way forward? You know, we have to find some way forward and why look at the negatives. The easiest thing in the world for them and for us is to shut down a plant... You (Tamil Nadu and state pollution control board TNPCB) also explore what should be the best modalities to subserve the public interest,” the bench said.

“Come back tomorrow so that we can then do something... And rest assured that any stringent condition that you (Tamil Nadu) want us to put, we are more than willing to put in that order, which protects interests of both sides. The community must have the confidence,” the CJI said.

The bench said it may ask the expert panel, having representation of both sides, to give a report within four weeks on compliances of pollution and environmental norms and then the plant can be considered for opening.

The court said it cannot be “oblivious to the fact that the community in Tuticorin also has to be carried along” because they have a history of gas leak also.

There was a case of sulphur oxide gas leak linked to the copper plant in 2013.

During the hearing, the court took strong note of the submission that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the state government referred to five types of violations on the part of the firm in their show cause notice and that the Madras High Court judgement later dealt with several other alleged violations.

“You are shutting down an industry. We are not a banana republic. We are governed by the rule of law. They (firm) may be the violators, but you have to follow fairness in your approach,” the CJI said.

Senior advocates CS Vaidyanathan and Gopal Sankaranaranayan, who appeared for the state government and the TNPCB, said the violations were writ large and and even one of the several grounds was sufficient for ordering closure of the copper unit.

The state and its pollution board referred to alleged violations including that the firm failed to furnish the ground water analysis report and did not remove copper slag dumped alongside a river.

The firm, on the other hand, said no specific material violations were alleged and it was claimed that the company did not file one report or another.

Divan referred to the long history of the case in chronological manner to assail the order of the Madras High Court and the authorities to close the copper smelting plant.

The hearing will resume on Thursday when both sides have to present their views on the court's suggestion to resolve the impasse over the closure of the plant.

At least 13 people were killed and many injured on May 22, 2018, when police opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against pollution allegedly caused by the copper smelting unit and its proposed expansion.

Subsequently, the Tamil Nadu government and the TNPCB ordered closure of the mining group's plant over pollution concerns.

The top court had in May last year asked the Tamil Nadu government to take appropriate decisions in pursuance of its April 10 direction by which it had allowed the Vedanta group to carry out the upkeep of the unit under the supervision of a local-level monitoring committee.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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