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NGT Orders Reopening of Vedanta's Sterlite Plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu to Move Supreme Court

The state’s minister for environment and pollution control KC Karuppanan said the state government will challenge the NGT order in Supreme Court.

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Updated:December 15, 2018, 7:12 PM IST
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NGT Orders Reopening of Vedanta's Sterlite Plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu to Move Supreme Court
Police stand gurad outside a copper smelter controlled by Vedanta in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. (REUTERS)
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Chennai: The National Green Tribunal on Saturday set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to close Vedanta’s copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi permanently and directed the administration to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent within 3 weeks. It also directed the company to spend Rs 100 crore within a period of three years for the welfare of inhabitants in the area.

The state’s minister for environment and pollution control KC Karuppanan said the state government will challenge the NGT order in Supreme Court. “CM Edappaadi K Palaniswami is firm on the closure of Sterlite,” he tweeted.

The order came months after the state government ordered the smelter shut down over alleged pollution. Demonstrations calling for the plant’s closure became violent in May and police fired on protesters, killing 13 people.

The order to close the plant permanently was taken by the AIADMK government after it faced widespread criticism for its handling of the protests. The local residents had said that mining activities by Anil Agarwal's Vedanta had caused widespread pollution of air and water in the city.

The Sterlite copper plant accounted for nearly 40 per cent share in India’s annual copper production of 10 lakh tonnes.

The order was passed by the tribunal after a three-member committee constituted by the NGT to look into the allegations of environmental pollution against the mining giant. The committee, headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal, had said that no notice or opportunity of hearing was given to Vedanta before the closure of the plant.

In its order, the green court took note of various lapses and lack of clearances but allowed the London-based mining firm to continue operations as the state government’s order was found to be “against the principles of natural justice”.

“The TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has adopted hyper technical approach unmindful of object of law. So long as establishment is complying with the Pollution Control norms and is willing to take further precautionary steps, the Pollution Control Boards cannot arbitrarily close such establishments on hyper technicalities,” the order stated.

The court asked Vedanta to deposit Rs 2.5 crore as a token amount for its failures. It has also been asked to set up a water treatment plant, a hospital and skill development centres for the welfare of local residents. In its submission before the tribunal, Vedanta had offered to invest Rs 100 crore for the welfare of the people apart from the regular CSR activities carried out by the firm.

It also directed regular inspections by monitoring group comprising TNPCB, Central Pollution Control Board and representative of the district administration at regular intervals.

The bench said that it was the duty of the pollution control boards to provide remedial measures to prevent environmental pollution by the industries in such circumstances, but refusing consent and direct closure without adopting those remedial measures is illegal and not sustainable in law.

It also rapped the state pollution board and said it did not make effort to ask the company to make physical barriers to block the leakage and said that the copper slag was not found to be hazardous.

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