Express News Service
CHENNAI: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has directed the Vedanta Limited to stop construction and all other activities on the site proposed for establishing its second unit of the copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi, with immediate effect. After holding that as of now, there is no proper approval from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in New Delhi for expanding the second unit, a division bench of Justices M Sundar and Anita Sumant gave the direction.
The bench was passing interim orders on a PIL petition from Fatima, a retired assistant professor in English and a senior citizen of Thoothukudi, on Wednesday. In the light of the admission of the counsel for Vedanta that no public hearing was conducted, the bench said that such an approval can be considered only after the conduct of public hearing and consultation.
The bench added that the application for renewal of environmental clearance (EC) submitted by Vedanta shall be processed expeditiously after the conduct of a mandatory public hearing. In any event, the application shall be decided by the appropriate authorities within four months i.e. on or before September 23. In the meanwhile, Vedanta shall cease construction and all other activities on-site proposed Unit-II of the Copper Smelting Plant. The resumption/continuance thereof, if it is so, shall be subject to the decision to be taken upon the grant or rejection of EC by the Union Ministry, the bench
"In issuing the above directions, we believe that we have taken into account and balanced the interests of all parties before us, the public as well as Vedanta. While, on the one hand, the economic benefits of encouraging industries cannot be ignored, the toll extracted on available resources, water and soil regimes by such industries, cannot also be lost sight of. There is thus yet another stakeholder before us, one that is invisible in the array of parties, the environment in itself. In balancing the interests of all parties to this Public Interest Litigation, we believe that the interests of this hapless party be treated on par, if not paramount," the bench observed.
Earlier, the petitioner contended that the clearance has been obtained by Vedanta on January 1, 2009, without conducting the mandatory requirement of the public hearing. This requirement had been waived by the Ministry on the incorrect representation of Vedanta to the effect that the Unit II was to be located in Phase II of SIPCOT Industrial Park that had itself been granted approval. Petitioner also claimed that phase II of SIPCOT Industrial Park, in which Unit II is proposed to be located, has not received
necessary approval till date. The survey numbers of the land upon which construction activities are on-going are located in Phase II of the SIPCOT Industrial Park that is yet to receive approval, petitioner
said and prayed the court to quash the environmental clearance given in January 2009 for the second unit and subsequently extended on July 23, 2015 and March 2, 2016, as illegal and against the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, and consequently impose exemplary costs.