Anti-Sterlite protesters allege NGT order was leaked; Vedanta’s PR firm denies
Leaders in the crusade against the copper smelter plant have lodged a complaint with the cybercrime wing of the Delhi Police, alleging that the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order was leaked to a PR firm of Vedanta group ahead of the order being pronounced.Updated: Dec 19, 2018 00:08 IST
An activist has lodged a police complaint against the alleged leaking of National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s ruling for the reopening of Sterlite’s copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi. Fathima Babu, the activist, alleged the order was leaked to a public relations firm linked to the Vedanta Group, which owns Sterlite, before it was pronounced on Saturday.
The factory was closed on May 28, six days after 13 people were killed in police firing on protestors demanding its closure over environmental concerns.
“We have lodged a complaint with the Cybercrime Division of the Delhi police,’’ said Babu. She said there is a “strong suspicion” that judicial independence and confidentiality has been compromised. Babu also sought the Tamil Nadu government’s help. “A Microsoft Word DOCX file was released to select media organisations on December 15 at 1.14 pm, ahead of the NGT order… pronounced in an open court… even before the order was uploaded on the NGT website,’’ said Babu. She added the analysis of the file revealed the file was created on a computer with the username ‘NGT PA’ at 7.39 am. “It was simultaneously modified on another computer with the username Abhas Pandya, who is senior group head of Adfactors, which manages Vedanta’s media relations. This shows that the NGT order has been leaked.”
A Delhi Police official said the complaint was being examined. “We are going through the complaint and will act on its merits,” said deputy commissioner of police, Madhur Verma.
Adfactors denied the charge. “We have not accessed any documents on the NGT’s order before the order was pronounced or uploaded on the tribunal’s website. It is false information that we got prior information,” an Adfactors official said on condition of anonymity.
Babu’s lawyer, Ritwick Dutta, cited NGT’s rule 23 and said it says all orders must be pronounced in an open court. “In this case, the order was not pronounced at all. In all orders, there is one author and rest of the judges sign the order but we noticed that there is no single person claiming authorship (in this case).”
Lawyer Balendu Shekhar, who practices at the Supreme Court and NGT, said the order is very detailed and runs into 40 pages. “I think it is highly unlikely that a draft would have been shared. The court may have pronounced a short order and a detailed order may have been uploaded thereafter. It often happens that a detailed order is published later.”
An official with the NGT registrar’s office ruled out a leak. “This is impossible. Orders are not shared with anyone before being pronounced. I think this is just gossip. We will not be able to comment on this matter officially.”
The protesters were fired upon when they took out a protest march on May 22 to mark the conclusion of a 100-day agitation against the factory. Fresh protests have been held against the NGT order. Authorities have deployed 5,000 additional police personnel to ensure peace. District collector Sandeep Nanduri appealed for calm saying the state government will appeal the NGT order in Supreme Court.
Sterlite CEO P Ramnath said they have written to the Thoothukudi district administration seeking access to the plant. “We lost access to the plant in May. As we have to launch maintenance works, we have sought permission from the district collector.