Tamil Nadu govt moves apex court against reopening of plant

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Updated: January 3, 2019 2:38:42 AM

Challenges the NGT order that allowed Vedanta to reopen its copper smelter after taking approval from the state pollution control board within three weeks.

It also suggested that the company take steps for safeguarding environment, like creating a dedicated website where the stakeholders can lodge their environment related grievances.

The Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging the National Green Tribunal’s order that allowed Vedanta to reopen its Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin. It said that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the issues related to policy decisions.

The green tribunal on December 15 had set aside the state government’s order to shut down the plant and described the government’s order as “non-sustainable and unjustifiable”. It had also directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to issue a fresh order of renewal of consent for the smelter within three weeks, thus paving the way for reopening the plant.

The tribunal had also asked Sterlite to take a series of steps for “safeguarding environment.” The factory was directed to spend Rs 2.5 crore for its faulty handling of 3.5 lakh tonnes of copper slag near the factory. The green panel said the company should spend within three years Rs 100 crore on welfare of inhabitants of the area as it had offered to do. It also suggested that the company take steps for safeguarding environment, like creating a dedicated website where the stakeholders can lodge their environment related grievances.

However, Vedanta has also filed a cross-appeal challenging the Madras High Court’s December 21 order that restrained it from reopening the plant after protests by activists and local groups. The Madurai branch of the High Court had said that the status quo would remain in effect until January 21.

Seeking setting aside of the impugned judgment, the TN government in its appeal before the apex court said that the tribunal failed to consider the data, document and evidence furnished by state pollution control board to prove that the company had irreversibly polluted the ground water in and around Tuticorin district.

It said that the NGT order showed non-application of mind as it had “furnished sufficient evidence to show that the respondent (Vedanta) had polluted the ground water and therefore had not furnished the ground water analysis report.”

According to the state’s appeal filed through counsel M Yogesh Kanna, the NGT does not have jurisdiction to decide upon the validity of a government order and it’s only the constitutional courts that have the power and the jurisdiction to do so. It submitted that “the jurisdiction conferred upon the Tribunal under Section 14 (1) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 does not include the power to examine the validity of the government orders. A plain reading of section 14 of the NGT Act 2010 makes it clear that the NGT has only jurisdiction to decide on civil disputes and not a policy decision made by the state government.”

As many as 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 last year when police opened fire on a crowd protesting against the plant they blamed for environmental pollution. Several people were also arrested for rioting, burning vehicles in the premises of the collectorate, pelting stones and damaging public property. This had prompted the Tamil Nadu government on May 28 to order the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant.

The Sterlite plant had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak had led to the death of one person and injuries to several others, after which 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 top court, which in April 2013 had allowed the Sterlite Copper Smelter plant to function in Tuticorin in public interest, but asked the company to pay `100 crore as compensation for polluting land and water by running it without approvals.

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