NGT orders re-opening of Sterlite Plant

The Sterlite plant was shut down on May 28, 2018, by the Tamil Nadu government after violent protests against expansion plans resulted in the death of 13 people in police firing. (Reuters file photo)

Terming as “non-sustainable” and “unjustified”, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Saturday set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to close Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi and directed restoration of electricity supply to the factory for resuming of operations.

The Tamil Nadu government had on May 28 this year locked up the massive factory on the outskirts of the southern port city following the death of 13 people in police firing during protests against expansion plans of Sterlite Copper. The closure was carried out through a Government Order, which the NGT struck down saying it was “unjustified” on an appeal filed by Sterlite Copper.

A stung Tamil Nadu government, which had proclaimed that no court can strike down its GO, went into damage control exercise by announcing that it will file an appeal against the NGT order before the Supreme Court. Opposition parties utilised the occasion to take pot shots at the government for “allowing the hazardous factory” to reopen again – they wanted the administration to take a “policy decision” to close the plant permanently.

Sterlite Copper, while welcoming the decision of the NGT, said it was happy that all those affected by the closure will get back their source of livelihood and the town of Thoothukudi will revert to normalcy.

“We will study the order in detail and shall take all steps required to restart the operations as per guidelines given by the honourable court. We have been operating our Smelter with the best-in-class technology adapting best practices followed globally and shall continue to do so,” P Ramnath, CEO, Sterlite Copper, said in a statement.

The 40-page order by the bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel tore into the Tamil Nadu government for closing the plant by blindly endorsing the views of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). While imposing a slew of conditions like monitoring the ground water regularly, the Bench directed the TNPCB to pass fresh order of renewal of consent within three weeks.

“We allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the TNPCB to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorization to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of the environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today,” the bench said.

The NGT also asked Sterlite Copper to within three years Rs 100 crore on the welfare of inhabitants of the area as it had offered to do and to take steps for safeguarding environment, like creating a dedicated website where the stakeholders can lodge their environment-related grievances.

The bench relied heavily on the findings of the committee it had appointed headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal. The committee had visited the plant in Thoothukudi and had received representations from various organisations, traders’ associations and general public in the port city and Chennai.

The panel among other things also noted that no notice was issued, or opportunity of hearing was given to Vedanta before the closure of the plant. The steps to be taken by the company, as per the verdict, including creating a dedicated and interactive website with participatory public forum wherein the affected stakeholders can lodge their environment-related grievance for time-bound redressal and disposal by the unit.

Read also

Sterlite plant would not be re-opened: TN govt
Villagers close to Sterlite recount their tales
Why Thoothukudi wants Sterlite Copper to be shut?

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NGT orders re-opening of Sterlite Plant

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