Vedanta gets green bench breather

In an interim relief, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday granted permission to Vedanta to access the administrative section at the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. However, the tribunal stated that the production unit will continue to remain shut.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel further directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to file a report based on an analysis of the baseline pollution data of the Sipcot industrial area in Tuticorin to ascertain the level of pollution attributable to the Sterlite plant. The TNPCB has been asked to submit the data within 10 days. The board informed the tribunal that a committee that also included a representative of Vedanta had been set up to maintain the plant and to prevent leakages and other environmental damages. Dismissing the TNPCB’s arguments against the permission granted to access the administrative unit, the bench said, “The district magistrate will ensure that the appellants do not access the production unit. We are concerned with the environment. No environmental damage can be caused by access to the administrative section (sic).”

The green panel, however, rejected the Tamil Nadu government’s contention that Vedanta’s plea, challenging the closure order issued, was not maintainable before the tribunal. During the hearing, senior advocate C. Aryama Sundaram, appearing for Vedanta, contended that no prior notices were issued to the plant before the closure order.

“We [Vedanta] produce 40 per cent of India’s copper, and if we shut down, then we have to go back to importing copper from China and Germany. Not one order issued to us refers to the pollution; it just said that people have complained. We are a zero-discharge unit. It is a completely politically motivated litigation where truckloads of people were brought from outside to protest. Today, there are protests on the other side as the entire area has become unemployed,” the senior advocate said. In July, Vedanta challenged closure order.

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