The Supreme Court on Tuesday held Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta Group, liable for a compensation of `100 crore for having polluted the environment in the vicinity of its plant in Thoothukudi and for having operated the facility without renewal of approval by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for a fairly long period.
A Bench comprising justices A K Patnaik and H L Gokhale in its 64-page judgment said, “Considering the magnitude, capacity and prosperity of the appellant company (Sterlite Industries), we are of the view that the appellant company should be held liable for compensation of `100 crore.”
The apex court, however, clarified that the TNPCB can pass orders against the company, including a direction for closure of the plant, for the protection of environment.
Justice Patnaik, writing the judgment for the Bench, said, “According to us, any less amount would not have the desired deterrent effect on the appellant company. The aforesaid amount will be deposited with the Collector of Thoothukudi district, who will invest it in a Fixed Deposit with a Nationalized Bank for a period of five years. The interest therefrom will be spent for improving the environment, including water and soil, in the vicinity of the plant after consultation with the TNPCB and approval of the Secretary, Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu.”
However, the Bench did not order closure of the plant. Justice Patnaik further wrote: “There is no doubt that there has been misrepresentation and suppression of material facts made in the special leave petition (by the appellant company) but to decline relief to the appellants in this case would mean closure of the plant of the appellants.”
The company, run by billionaire Anil Agarwal, has been accused of running the plant without getting certain mandatory clearances from the appropriate authorities.
The apex court also said that its judgment will not come in the way of any other court proceedings filed against the company for compensation.
While concluding, Justice Patnaik said: “By this judgment, we have only set aside the directions of the (Madras) High Court in the impugned common judgment and we make it clear that this judgment will not stand in the way of the TNPCB issuing directions to the appellant company, including a direction for closure of the plant, for the protection of environment in accordance with law.”