CHENNAI: National Green Tribunal (NGT) will be holding the final hearing in the Sterlite case on Friday. Though Tamil Nadu government is on the back foot after an independent expert committee observed that the closure order was unjustifiable and against principles of natural justice, there were some glaring violations established by Justice Tarun Agarwal committee.
Express has accessed the 205-page full report, which tells in detail how the company flouted norms over the years and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) allowed it to have a free run before things turned ugly in Thoothukudi and the subsequent killing of 13 protesters in police firing forcing the government to issue closure order on May 28, 2018 citing public interest.The committee on the one hand has actually acknowledged the allegations of TNPCB and public interveners levelled against Sterlite Copper, but concludes that they were not grievous enough to shutdown the factory.
TNPCB Chairman Shambu Kallolikar told Express that the committee, while accepting that Sterlite has violated several statutory norms, has recommended reopening of the factory. “We have submitted the reply before NGT on Thursday. The committee does not have jurisdiction to recommend the reopening,” he said.
The TNPCB had on April 9 rejected Sterlite’s application for renewal of consent based on five grounds including non-submission of groundwater analysis report taken from borewells within the unit premises, non-removal of copper slag dumped along Uppar river and patta land, disposing hazardous waste without valid authorisation, and not constructing gypsum pond as per CPCB guidelines.
Apart from that, the committee has also looked into the allegation of green belt and stack height violations and import of sub-standard copper concentrates from Australia. The outcome of the findings is that Sterlite has violated many of these grounds. However, the major violations on which the committee came down heavily were green belt and chimney stack height violations. The committee noted that there was hardly any greenery inside the factory premises, except the area between main gate and the administrative section where a garden with palm trees had been developed.
“The condition that the company is required to develop 25 m width of green belt around the battery limits of the factory has not been adhered to by the company,” the report says. Regarding chimney stack height, the committee said based on emission load basis standard of 2 kg of Sulphur dioxide (SO2) per tonne of Sulphuric acid produced, the stack height would be 83.51 m. If load-basis standards at one kg is applied, the stack height would be 67.83 m, whereas the present stack is 60.38 m, i.e. below prescribed limits.
Evaluation of the height of the stack becomes necessary in the light of continuous complaints being made by the interveners, by TNPCB and by residents of Thoothukudi, alleging eye irritation, skin disorder, throat suffocation, and asthma, the report says.
Why no scientific health study done?
The committee said inspite of two major incident of gas leakage and various allegation of health conditions, no data has been provided either by the interveners or by the State government or by TNPCB indicating that people are suffering from occupational cancer or arsenic poison on account of ground water pollution or suffering from respiratory problems, and skin cancer due to emission of noxious gases.
“The committee repeatedly asked the State government to provide data from the government hospital and primary heath centers which are located in every village but such details were not provided.”
Agitation to continue
Even as the State assembly was adjourned sine die on Thursday, villagers of Pandarampatti and anti-Sterlite activists urged the government to pass a resolution to strengthen the closure order of Sterlite. The activists said that agitation will continue if the resolution is not passed during the assembly session adjourned with no specific date for continuation