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NGT notice to Tamil Nadu, state pollution board over Vedanta’s plea on closing Thoothukudi plant

The Tamil Nadu government had on May 28 ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant in Thoothukudi following violent protests over pollution concerns.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2018 19:08 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, New Delhi
Vedanta,Sterlite copper plant,Tuticorin
A general view shows Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant, a unit of Vedanta Resources, in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.(Reuters File Photo)

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday sought the response of the Tamil Nadu government and the state pollution control board on mining major Vedanta’s plea challenging the state’s order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin.

At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 when the police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.

On Thursday, a bench headed by Acting NGT Chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses before July 18 after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objection with regard to the maintainability of the plea.

The green panel also permitted the state government to file a statement questioning the maintainability of Vedanta’s plea.

Senior advocates CS Vaidyanathan and Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu government, questioned the maintainability of the petition and said the company has already approached the Madras High Court and the NGT should not entertain the matter.

Senior advocate CA Sundaram, representing Vedanta, said the issue in the High Court was different and it was filed to seek permission to enter the premises in wake of a leak in the sulphuric acid tank. He sought a direction to complete maintenance activities in the premises and permission for the representatives to access the administrative building.

The tribunal, however, refused to pass any order and said it would look into those issues on the next date of hearing.

The Tamil Nadu government had on May 28 ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.

In April, the Tamil Nadu pollution control board had rejected Sterlite’s plea to renew the Consent To Operate certification, saying the company had not complied with the stipulated conditions. Following this, the government issued the permanent closure notice.

Vedanta’s plea in the NGT seeks permission to operate the unit and a direction to declare as unlawful and illegal the exercise of powers by the Tamil Nadu government in passing the closure order under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act.

“Direct the state pollution control board to consider the application for renewal of consent afresh and pass appropriate orders granting the same within a period of one month, for a period of five years, from the date of such consent” the plea said.

Seeking interim relief to begin operations, the plea said, “Permit the appellant to operate the unit and plant pending the consideration of the instant appeal and direct the TN pollution control board to restore and provide minimum power supply, water and manpower access for safeguarding the emergency systems of the plant as it houses various chemical and fuels.

“Due to the sudden closure of the plant, the same poses a threat to the surroundings, the plant and the machinery within the plant,” it said.

The Sterlite factory made the headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak led to the death of one person and leaving several others injured. Following this, then chief minister J Jayalalithaa had ordered its closure.

The company had then appealed to the NGT, which had overturned the government order. The state had then moved the Supreme Court against it and the petition is still pending.

Following the latest protest and the police firing, the plant closed on March 27, with the company citing maintenance process. The Supreme Court ordered the company to pay a Rs 100 crore fine. The factory was temporarily shut down by the pollution regulator.

After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Tuticorin plant, people in villages around it started the latest protest which went on for over 100 days, leading to the May 22 police firing on the protestors that claimed 13 lives and leaving scores injured.

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 19:08 IST