NGT quashes Tamil Nadu order to shut Vedanta’s Sterlite plant

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New Delhi | Published: December 16, 2018 5:24:07 AM

In a major relief to the Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Group, the country’s green court NGT on Saturday set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to permanently shut the group’s Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu.

ngt, tamil nadu, vedantaThe NGT said the order of Tamil Nadu was not a policy matter but a mere endorsement of the order of TNPCB.

In a major relief to the Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Group, the country’s green court NGT on Saturday set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to permanently shut the group’s Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu.
A bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson AK Goel asked the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks, starting Saturday. The Tamil Nadu government had ordered TNPCB to seal and “permanently” close the plant at Tuticorin on May 28, six days after 13 people were killed in a police firing following violent protests over pollution concerns.

Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said the state government will challenge the order before the Supreme Court.

P Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper, said he will study the court order and will take necessary steps to restart the operations of the plant as per NGT guidelines.

“We welcome the order given by the NGT on allowing us to resume operations of our copper smelter at Tuticorin. We are happy that all those affected by the closure will get back their source of livelihood and the town of Tuticorin will revert to normalcy. We will continue to work for the welfare of the communities around the region and remain committed to growing sustainably along with the people of Tuticorin,” he said.
The tribunal ordered Vedanta to spend the amount of Rs 100 crore within a period of 3 years for welfare of the inhabitants in the area. The company will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations. Vedanta had offered to spend Rs 100 crore for the welfare of the people, beyond the CSR activities carried out by the firm.

NGT said that the amount should be spent on projects like water supply, hospital and health services and skill development in the area. “The action plan prepared for utilisation of the amount be got approved from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, which may also oversee the compliance thereof. Such action plan and progress achieved in implementation of said plan may also be uploaded on the said website for the purpose of dissemination,”NGT said in the order.

The NGT said the order of Tamil Nadu was not a policy matter but a mere endorsement of the order of TNPCB. The order cannot be said to be an independent order.

The NGT said the grounds in the impugned orders can hardly be sustainable to justify them. The ground water analysis reports were available with the TNPCB. If anything was still required to be done in that regard by the appellant company, this could not be a ground for rejecting consent for renewal or for closing the unit without opportunity of hearing.

According to the order, the TNPCB has adopted hyper technical approach in this case, unmindful of object of law. So long as the establishment is complying with the pollution control norms and is willing to take further precautionary steps, the Pollution Control Boards cannot arbitrarily close such establishments on hyper technicalities, as has been done in the present case. The NGT said it expected TNPCB to have more focused and professional approach in performing its regulatory functions.

Also read: Gaps in green governance: NGT order exposes what ails environment monitoring

NGT’s final order comes close on the heals of the three-member committee constituted by the NGT to look into the allegations of environmental pollution against the mining giant, submitting its report pointing out that the closure order of Tamil Nadu was unjustifiable. The committee, headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal, had said that no notice or opportunity of hearing was given to Vedanta before the closure of the plant.

The counsel for Sterlite had submitted that the company had invested around Rs 3,000 crore for setting up the plant, out of which around Rs 500 crore had been invested on environment protection measures.

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