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Supreme Court permits Vedanta to reopen Tamil Nadu plant

FE Bureau

Clearing the way for Vedanta Resources to reopen its Sterlite copper smelter in Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order allowing resumption of the plant. A bench headed by justice RF Nariman though sought response from Vedanta on the state government s appeal against the NGT order. It said the NGT s order will continue till the final outcome of the appeal. It, however, stayed the Madras High Court s December 21 order that restrained Vedanta from reopening the plant after protests by activists and local groups. The Madurai bench of the high court had said that status quo would remain in effect until January 21.

Vedanta had filed a cross-appeal against this order. There are two parallel proceedings going on in the apex court on the issue. While the Tamil Nadu government has appealed against the NGT order which allows the company to open the plant, Vedanta s appeal is against the high court order restraining it from opening the plant.

The Tamil Nadu government has said that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the issues related to policy decisions and has sought a stay on the green tribunal s December 15 order that set aside its decision to shut down the plant and described the government s order as non-sustainable and unjustifiable .

The NGT has directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to issue a fresh order of renewal of consent for the smelter within three weeks. The tribunal had also asked the company to take a series of steps for safeguarding environment . The factory was directed to spend `2.5 crore for its faulty handling of 3.5 lakh tonnes of copper slag near the factory. The NGT said the company should spend within three years `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.

Seeking setting aside of the impugned judgement, 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.

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This is an important development for both the smelter and the surrounding communities which will allow those affected by the closure to regain their livelihood and Vedanta to help meet India s copper needs. We are approaching the state government for necessary approvals for restarting the smelter as per the Supreme Court s directions, Sterlite Copper said in an official statement.

We are looking forward for the restart of one of the best copper smelters of the world as we remain committed towards world class environmental standards, it further stated while thanking the people of Tuticorin for their support, which will go a long way in promoting socio-economic development in the region .

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 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.