In Setback for TN Govt, NGT-Appointed Panel Says Closure of Sterlite Plant 'Not Justified'

The three-member committee found that the state's order was against ‘natural justice’ since it had not given the company a notice or substantial time to respond ahead of the sealing.

New Delhi: A probe ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) into the closure of Sterlite’s copper plant in Thoothukudi has described Tamil Nadu’s decision to shut down the plant as “not sustainable.”

According to The New Minute, the three-member committee headed by former Chief Justice of Meghalaya high court Tarun Agarwal, found that the state’s order was against ‘natural justice’ since it had not given the company notice or substantial time to respond to the closure order.
“The state government may give several reasons for closing down the unit. But the closure is not justified,” the committee reportedly found.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel took notice of the report and directed both Vedanta, the firm which owns the plant, and the state to file its responses within a week’s time, The Hindu reported.

Also read: How Modi Government Helped Vedanta’s Sterlite Plant Bypass Environmental Norms

The committee, which also comprises scientists Satish C. Garkoti and H.D. Varalaxmi, however, directed the firm to set rules for carrying out waste management. The panel also asked the Central Pollution Control Board to ensure the firm’s compliance with pollution norms.

“The report submitted by the committee states that there are no sufficient grounds for closure. This was purely a political move and the report is favourable to Sterlite,” said senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, who argued for Vedanta Ltd. “The court has also given a recommendation to the company and TNPCB. They have directed that the air and groundwater quality must be constantly monitored.”

A spokesperson for the ruling AIADMK, however, told a Tamil news channel that the development was not a setback for the state government which had “sought the opinion of legal experts and only then proceeded with its decision to close down the plant.”

The panel’s report on the plan’ts closure was submitted to the NGT on Tuesday. Following Vedanta’s petition challenging Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s decision to seal the plant, the green tribunal in August constituted the ‘independent body’ to look into it. According to The News Minute, the next date for hearing has been slotted for December 10, however, as per sources, affected parties have asked for an earlier date.

Meanwhile, the apex court on November 20 dismissed a review petition filed by the state over NGT’s decision to allow Vedanta to challenge the closure order.

Observing that allowing access to the administrative section would not cause any environmental damage, the green tribunal on August 9 allowed Vedanta to enter its administrative unit inside its Sterlite copper plant.

Also read: ‘In Thoothukudi, the Choice Before People Was to Die of Cancer or Bullets’

The state government challenged the NGT’s order in the Supreme Court.

In its August 9 order, the NGT said that the plant would remain closed and the company would not have access to its production unit. The NGT directed the district magistrate to ensure this.

The Tamil Nadu government 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.

Sterlite’s factory had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak killed one person, besides injuring several others. Following the incident, then chief minister J. Jayalalithaa  ordered the factory’s closure.

The company appealed to the NGT which however overturned the government’s order. The state moved the Supreme Court against it, which then ordered the company to pay Rs 100 crore as compensation for polluting the environment.

After Sterlite announced its plans to expand Tuticorin plant, villagers in the area started fresh protests that continued for over 100 days. The agitation culminated in the May 22 police firing on protestors that claimed 13 lives and left scores injured. Following these protests and police firing, the plant was closed on March 27.

(With PTI inputs)

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