A view of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi.
A view of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi.(File Photo | EPS)

SC dismisses Vedanta's plea against closure of copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi

The Top Court noted in its order that there are "repeated breaches" and "serious violations" on the part of Vedanta in the case.

NEW DELHI: In a major setback to Vedanta group, the Supreme Court in its order on Thursday rejected its petition challenging the Madras High Court’s decision to close its plant in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice Of India (CJI) Dr DY Chandrachud pronounced the order and refused to entertain the appeal filed by Vedanta, which had moved the apex court challenging the Madras HC's order of closing of its plant in Thoothukudi.

The Top Court noted in its order that there are "repeated breaches" and "serious violations", and not adhering to environmental safeguards on the part of Vedanta.

The Court also rejected the appeals filed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) challenging the observations made by the Madras High Court against it in connection with its inaction in the case.

"We are of the view that the HC was justified in making those observations regarding the lack of alacrity on the part of the TNPCB in discharging its duties," the SC said.

While rejecting Vedanta's appeal for opening the plant, the SC said, "We are conscious of the nature of the contribution of the company to the area. However, the court said we have to be mindful of the principle of sustainable development and the health and welfare of the residents of the area is a matter of utmost concern".

A view of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi.
Closure of Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu: SC agrees to hear Vedanta group's plea

The Supreme Court said that Vedanta failed to remove copper slab at almost 11 sites including private land.

It also failed to abide by conditions in consent to operate in the case of gypsum and to obtain authorisation for the disposal of hazardous waste.

During the hearing, Senior lawyer, Gopal Shankar Narayana, for Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), objected to the way Vedanta had operand functioned its activities. Due to the action of Vedanta, the groundwater was heavily contaminated, and Gypsum high volume waste was found. The monitoring committee also found a mountain of Gypsum also affected the respiratory organs of human beings nearby to the area.

A view of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit in Thoothukudi.
SC asks TN govt to explain what violations were committed by Vedanta that led to closure of plant

"Drinking water standard have also deteriorated. Vedanta is causing air pollution. The emission level went beyond permissible limit and standard. There are adverse health affects of human beings,"Shankar Narayana told the Court.

He added that So2 (Sulphur Dioxide) level had increased. Severe cough, irritation and breathing peoblem, suffocation and etc were found among many people living nearby to the area.

Even nearby hospital doctors and staff members have stated and conplained that they were facing such kind of health hazards, he told the Court.

"Hazardous water was found there. Green belt violation is serious and they continued to do it. Environment is being destroyed by them for their personal benefit," he said and sought a direction for upholding the Madras HC order.

Opposing the arguments of Shankar Narayana, senior lawyer, Shyam divan for Vedanta, argued that the gas was not emitted or coming out from our plant, there is no evidence to it. There was no emitting of SO2 leakage at all from our plant. No gypsum on site. Gypsum is not a hazardous waste. "There is no Gypsum today at the site," Divan told told Supreme Court.

The groundwater quality for drinakabiity was also good, the result said so. I am not responsible for the contamination. Pollutants were within the prescribed limits and below the stipulated limits. We are compliant of the 2018 order of CPCB, Divan argued before the Apex Court.

Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, for TN state govt, submitted that Vedanta was indiscriminately dumping and threw gypsum and slag in the area, and dumped them outside the factory premises.

Vedanta had filed a petition in the top Court challenging Madras High Court’s decision against the reopening of the plant.

The Supreme Court had earlier in its one of the hearings on February 14 suggested the parties that whether a committee of experts can be constituted to inspect Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant at Thoothukudi can be reopened with stringent conditions in place.

It is to be noted that the closure order was passed immediately after the plant had turned into a protest site with citizens opposing the expansion of the plant. The order was supported by the State government. The protest took a violent turn after several days of protest, when police opened fire on the protesters, leading to several people lost their lives.

To the SC's proposal of a special committee to prescribe safeguards to resume operations at Vedanta's copper smelter plan in Tuticorin, the TN govt had opposed the move citing repeated violations by Vedanta.

The New Indian Express