Tarun Agrawal to head panel to decide Vedanta's plea

The National Green Tribunal has appointed former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal as head of a three-member committee to decide mining company Vedanta's plea, challenging closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin. PTI file photo

The National Green Tribunal has appointed former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal as head of a three-member committee to decide mining company Vedanta's plea, challenging closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin.

A bench headed by chairperson A K Goel had earlier named former Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice S J Vazifdar as head of the panel, however, he expressed inability to accept the appointment stating personal reasons.

"The matter has been put up on receipt of a communication from Justice S J Vazifdar, former Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court and former Judge of Bombay High Court dated August 28 expressing inability to accept the appointment in terms of order dated August 20 for personal reasons.

"In view of above, we substitute Justice S J Vazifdar by Justice Tarun Agrawal, former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court and former Judge of Allahabad High Court. All other terms of order dated August 20 will remain," the bench, also comprising Justices Jawad Rahim and S P Wangdi, said.

The tribunal also made it clear that if there is any non-compliance of the order, the company would be at liberty to take its remedies or to point out the same before the committee.

"Pending the finalisation of remuneration by the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, the Central Pollution Control Board will provide immediate logistic support and organise the visit of Justice Tarun Agrawal, Chairman of the committee, and other members to the site or to the venue of the hearing," the bench said.

The NGT had earlier said a credible mechanism, through which rival contentions can be balanced and final view taken, has to be evolved.

The green panel had said the committee, which includes representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, may visit the site and consider technical data.

It had noted in its order that it cannot be ignored that the copper smelting plant contributed to copper production in the country and employed 1,300 people.

"To give the opportunity to the parties as above, option before us is either to set aside the impugned order and remand the matter to the TNPCB or to seek a report by referring the matter to an independent and credible committee.

"The Committee can go into the material produced by the parties on the issue of environmental compliance as well as the impact on inhabitants as perceived or actual," the bench said.

The green tribunal had asked the committee to submit its report to it and said that the matter be listed for hearing on receipt of report of the panel.

It had directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to provide logistic support to the committee and said their remuneration would be determined by the state government.

The tribunal had also said that the committee may hear intervenors MDMK general secretary Vaiko and K S Arjunan, who is Communist Party of India (Marxist) District Secretary in Tuticorin if they feel necessary.

On August 9, the Tribunal had allowed Vedanta to enter the administrative unit inside its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, observing that no environmental damage would be caused by allowing access to the section.

The green panel had, however, said the plant would remain closed and the company would not have access to its production unit and directed the district magistrate to ensure this.

On July 30, the court had refused to grant any interim relief to Vedanta, which had challenged the Tamil Nadu government's order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, even as the firm termed the government action "political".

On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objections 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 violent 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.

At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 when the police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.

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Tarun Agrawal to head panel to decide Vedanta's plea

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