New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal today refused to grant any interim relief to major mining company Vedanta, which has challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin, even as the firm termed the government action as “political”.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson A.K. Goel allowed the state government to file its reply on Vedanta’s plea by August 9, when it will next hear the matter.
The tribunal adjourned the matter after the counsel, appearing for the state, sought time, saying “there are certain developments that need to be brought before the court”.
The submission, however, was opposed by senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, appearing for Vedanta, who said the issue was “political”.
“This is completely a political issue. Now the agitation is starting the other way, where around 25,000 people are sitting on a protest,” the counsel said.
The senior advocate, while seeking tribunal’s permission to enter the premises, said there was leakage of sulphuric acid from the factory, which had to be taken care of since it may lead to some disaster.
“The factory was locked by the state. At least let us remove the sulphuric acid,” the counsel said.
At this, the counsel appearing for the state government, said, “Things are being taken care of for the last one month and entire sulphuric acid has been removed.”
The state’s plea, seeking time to file the reply, was opposed by Vedanta, which said that the situation was critical.
However, the bench said it will hear the matter in detail and posted the case for final hearing.
On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised a preliminary objection with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta’s plea.
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 protests over pollution concerns.
Earlier 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 had issued a permanent closure notice to the plant.
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.
Sterlite’s factory had made headlines in March 2013, when a gas leak led to the death of one person and injuries to several others, after which the 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 case is still pending.
The Supreme Court had then ordered the company to pay Rs 100 crore as compensation for polluting environment.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Tuticorin plant, villagers around it started fresh protests that continued for over 100 days, culminating in the May 22 police firing on protestors that claimed 13 lives and left scores injured.
Following the latest protests and police firing, the plant was closed on March 27.