CHENNAI: Madras High Court on Tuesday refused to allow the reopening of Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi and dismissed all the petitions filed by Vedanta Limited.
The two-member bench, comprising justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan, said the orders should have been pronounced on March 11 but the pandemic delayed the process. The judgment running to 815 pages was prepared amidst the pandemic, said the judges in the VC.
The Judges also refused to order status quo until Vedanta went on appeal to the Supreme Court. Judges say they would have delivered on March 12 but for the pandemic. The Bench lauded all the senior counsels and advocates who argued throughout the case.
The Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board had rejected the plant’s application for renewal of Consent to Operate in 2018 on grounds that it had violated environmental laws.
The state government subsequently issued a closure order on May 28, 2018, against the plant, days after a protest against Sterlite ended violently with police opening fire on protesters, killing 13 people.
Vedanta has moved legal pleas seeking permission to reopen the plant. A plea against the State’s action before the National Green Tribunal ended in victory for Vedanta in December 2018, with the green tribunal finding in favour of the plant. However, the Supreme Court, in February 2019, set aside the NGT order on the grounds that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction over the case.
The Supreme Court allowed Vedanta to take its plea to the Madras High Court. The case was brought before a Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan on June 27, 2019. Elaborate hearings were carried out with the State arguing that the company had flouting several environmental norms while operating.
The state denied Vedanta’s contention that the closure order was a reaction to the death of 13 protesters in the police firing, arguing that while the protests may have contributed to the order, they were not the sole reason behind it.
The state argued that it had full authority and powers to shut a factory when it caused a serious threat to the environment and ecology, claiming that the pollution caused by the Sterlite plant was much higher than pollution caused by other companies in the SIPCOT area in Thoothukudi Only in December 2019, the entire arguments were concluded by the division bench.
Vedanta had contended that the TNPCB’s findings were based on old reports, and there was no higher level of pollutants or contamination by the plant as alleged by the board.
Most of the waste generated from the plant that was stated to be a pollutant by the TNPCB is non-hazardous and had been delisted from the hazardous waste category, the company argued.
The Bench also heard pleas made by the residents of Thoothukudi and politicians, including MDMK chief Vaiko, against the plant.
'Will challenge Madras HC verdict in SC'
Calling the judgment "shocking and sad day for India", the company CEO Pankaj Kumar confirmed to The New Indian Express that 'they will take a call on next course of action after going through the judgement. He further added that 'the verdict will be challenged before Supreme Court.'
Meanwhile, DMK MP Kanimozhi welcomed the verdict and said development should not come at the cost of environment.
Also welcoming the verdict, Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said the HC has endorsed the view of Tamil Nadu Government that the Sterlite plant should not be allowed to be reopen.
"It is a victory for people in their fight against Sterlite plant. It is justice given for the 13 people who sacrificed their lives for the cause. The MDMK has been fighting for the closure of the plant for around 26 years. This verdict is indeed the happiest news for us." said MDMK general secretary Vaiko.