Three state governments, Gujarat, Goa, and Maharashtra have refused permission to the Vedanta group to set up its 40,000 tonnes capacity Sterlite copper smelting plant before the company managed to convince the Tamil Nadu government.
The refusal by all the three states was because of the highly polluting nature of the plant, according to the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation that on Wednesday claimed the smelting units polluted the environment and flouted ecological standards with impunity for the last 20 years.
A day before at least 10 people were killed at Thoothukudi when the police opened fire on a crowd protesting against a proposed expansion of the Sterlite plant.
“We condemn the killing of innocent protestors. Considering its history, the residents were justified in protesting against the plant's expansion”, said Sunita Narain, CSE director general.
Since its commencement in 1997, the plant had been found on numerous occasions to flout the pollution norms with impunity and foregone permit requirements by pollution regulators, as observed by the courts, CSE said in a statement.
A Supreme Court monitoring committee in 2004 found the plant had not provided adequate infrastructure and facilities for management of highly toxic arsenic-containing wastes. The plant was also found to be emitting sulphur dioxide far in excess of the permissible standards.
The NGO claims while obtaining environment clearance, the firm violated the norms by misrepresenting facts and giving a faulty Environmental Impact Assessment report.
Firstly, it said that the plant is not located within 25 km of ecologically sensitive area, which was found to be wrong as the plant is located near Munnar Marine National Park. In addition, the company submitted a faulty rapid EIA report without conducting any public hearing.
In 2010, the Madras High Court closed the plant because it was polluting the environment and had flouted norms while setting up the plant. In 2013, the Supreme Court imposed a penalty of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment.
In March 2013, a toxic gas leak from the plant made several hundreds of residents living in its vicinity sick.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered a closure of the smelting unit on March 29, but the Principal bench of the National Green Tribunal gave a clean chit to Sterlite and revoked the closure order based on technicalities, CSE adds.
“With such a poor track record on the environment for nearly two decades, a plant like Sterlite’s copper unit, would not have been allowed to operate anywhere in the world. However, not only does it continue to operate in Tuticorin, but is also planning to double its capacity, reflecting the abject failure of the environmental governance,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director general.