The very utility of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) having a judicial and an expert member was put to exemplary exhibition on Friday when a technical matter with regard to the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi came up for discussion.
Appearing for Sterlite Industries Limited (SIL), senior counsel TR Rajagopalan took a stand before the bench comprising judicial member M Chockalingam and expert member Professor R Nagendran that there was no case of excess emission on the morning of March 23.
The high emission figures quoted by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) through its Care Air Centre in Chennai was in fact the reading obtained when the plant was undertaking what is called ‘calibration,’ a maintenance process to check the proper working of components. Professor Nagendran then put forth questions that held the court room spellbound. According to him, when the calibration process is undertaken, the components automatically switch to ‘Maintenance’ mode, which was usually reflected on the readers.
However, in this case, as per the records of the TNPCB, the readers continued to show emissions under ‘Actual’ mode, which is the mode employed when the plant is running. This was also accepted in the papers filed by the company. “The process is more like the door opening and closing. When the door is opened, it would show so. When it is shut, it would indicate that. How can it show the other way inadvertently?” he questioned.
Appearing for respondent Fathima Babu, an activist from Thoothukudi, counsel D Nagasaila said the entire “calibration” theory seemed fictitious given that high levels of SO2 were recorded in only one stack, whereas there were five in total. Also, the process usually takes 15 minutes. Why the readings were so high for an extended time frame on March 23 was a question to be answered.
Earlier, Rajagopalan maintained that inspections done by the District Environment Engineer after the alleged leak on March 23 found that everything was alright.