Nod for Sun Pharmaceutical Industries' plant in Tamil Nadu set to face NGT challenge

Tamil Nadu on July 3, 1998, declared areas in a 5-km radius of the Vedanthangal wetland as a bird sanctuary and Sun Pharma was permitted to operate as it was set up before 1998.
Sun Pharmaceutical Industries ( Photo| REUTERS)
Sun Pharmaceutical Industries ( Photo| REUTERS)

CHENNAI: The Union Environment Ministry has given Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Limited environmental clearance (EC) to expand its production capacity multifold within the existing plant, located inside Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in Chengalpattu.

The move has raised eyebrows as the company's application before the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) seeking wildlife clearance is still pending. Environmental activists are set to challenge the EC before the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Tamil Nadu on July 3, 1998, declared areas in a 5-km radius of the Vedanthangal wetland as a bird sanctuary. Sun Pharma was permitted to operate as it was set up before 1998. However, in May 2020, the company applied for EC to expand its Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients manufacturing unit's production capacity from 25.5 TPM to 134.082 TPM.

In July 2020, the ministry wrote to all State Chief Secretaries detailing the procedure for consideration of development projects located within 10 km of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

'Pharmaceutical firm’s claim to panel incorrect'

"The letter clearly states that to get EC, prior clearance from the Standing Committee of NBWL is required. In Sun Pharma's case, the scenario is worse as the industry is located inside the core bird sanctuary area. The company has falsely claimed before the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the ministry that the unit is located 3.72 km from the Vendanthangal bird sanctuary," charged Stanley Hebzon Singh, advocate at the southern bench of the NGT where a petition pertaining to alleged pollution by Sun Pharma is pending.

The EC document, a copy of which is available with The New Indian Express, notes that Sun Pharma's claim of the unit being located 3.72 km (west) from the bird sanctuary is factually incorrect. Ritwick Dutta, leading environmental advocate in Supreme Court, told The New Indian Express that neither EAC or NBWL can accrue fresh rights to a industry if it falls within the boundary of a sanctuary.

“Sun Pharma may have commenced operation before notification of Vendanthangal Bird Sanctuary, but no expansion can be permitted by law. We will soon challenge the EC before the green tribunal.” The Section 29 in Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 prohibits any development inside the sanctuary until the State government is satisfied in consultation with the NBWL that it is necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife.

Neha Sinha, conservation biologist and author working with the Bombay Natural History Society on environmental policy said, "NBWL is the apex body dealing with projects inside protected areas. Sun Pharma's proposal is detrimental to the well-being of the bird sanctuary."

In 2020, when T Vennila, secretary of the environmental wing of Naam Tamilar Katchi, filed a petition before the Madras High Court following The New Indian Express' report on Sun Pharma's expansion plans, the then AIADMK government told the court it had returned the proposal.

Before commencing any work, Sun Pharma will have to get NBWL clearance and consent from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. The New Indian Express has not received any response to its queries from Sun Pharma at the time of going to press.

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