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Vedanta alleges Chinese hand in Sterlite plant closure

These Chinese companies, Vedanta Counsel C Aryama Sundaram alleged in the court, have economic interest in Indian copper import market. 

Published: 28th June 2019 03:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th June 2019 03:54 AM   |  A+A-

Thoothukudi Sterlite plant

Vedanta's Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant in Tuticorin (File | Reuters)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Throwing a bombshell, senior counsel for Vedanta told the Madras High Court on Thursday that certain Chinese firms were involved in the issue relating to the closure of its copper smelter unit in SIPCOT at Thoothukudi. These Chinese companies, Vedanta Counsel C Aryama Sundaram alleged in the court, have economic interest in Indian copper import market. 

He further alleged that these firms funded the agitators to stage agitations and protests against Sterlite. The import bill for copper is $2 billion and the same was met by Sterlite, Sundaram said. 
Following the closure of the unit, nearly 38 per cent of the country’s demand for copper, which was hitherto supplied by Sterlite, is now being met by the foreign companies, he added, when Vedanta’s writ petitions challenging the orders of  TN government directing the closure of Sterlite, came up before a division bench on Thursday.

There are 63 companies in SIPCOT from where its copper unit functioned. This included 10 red category companies, which handle hazardous materials. Still, if anything goes wrong, only Sterlite was blamed. But each and every time, the company had survived from such allegations, counsel said.

He also wondered as to how over 20,000 people had gathered for the anti-Sterlite protest on May 22 last year, when 13 protestors were allegedly shot dead by police. Originally, the State claimed that opposition was the reason for the closure of the unit. But, now it changed its stance and is claiming that the closure was due to the unit not adhering to rules and causing pollution.

“Though we are blamed for the protest and the police firing, CBI, which is probing the case, has not called us for any inquiry, so far. Still we are punished by the closure order,” the senior counsel said.
Contending that the decision to close the unit was a colourable exercise of power by the government, the company claimed that acid leak was damaging the structures and other equipment. If the intention was to protect the environment, it should have taken care and control of the unit immediately. But, it did not do so, which was  resulting in acid leaks, he added. The bench recorded the submissions and adjourned the matter by a day. 

Bench seeks report
The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has sought a status report from the CBI on its probe into the police firing that happened during the protests. A division bench, comprising justices M Sathyanarayanan and B Pugalendhi, gave the direction while hearing a petition filed by CBI seeking further time to complete the investigation. 

The counsel appearing for the CBI informed the Bench that two FIRs had been filed by them relating to the incident and no arrests were made so far. Since more than 100 cases were registered by local police, the agency would need some more time to complete investigation, the counsel stated and sought an extension of time for the same. However, counsels appearing on behalf of the protesters argued that the CBI ought to have registered FIRs against police officials involved in the firing under section 302 of IPC (murder) and not under 174 CrPC (suspicious death). They further sought direction to fix a time limit to complete the investigation.

Hearing the submissions, the judges stated that the apex court had categorically held that High Courts should refrain from passing such orders as the same would affect the quality of the investigation. Hence, they directed CBI to complete the investigation as expeditiously as possible and sought a status report on or before September 16.



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