As the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had set aside Tamil Nadu government’s order to close down the Sterlite Copper in Thoothukudi, the company plans to resume operations in the unit. CEO of Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary of Sterlite Industries which is owned by Vedanta Limited, on Sunday, December 16, made it clear that the company will approach the state government for consent for the same.
While pronouncing the judgement on Saturday, the Tribunal had directed the state pollution control board to renew a key licence, consent to operate and remove other barriers for the fulfilment of certain conditions within the time span of three weeks from the date of judgement.
“Accordingly, we allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today,” the judgement read.
On May 22-23 of this year, 13 people who had been protesting for the closure of the Sterlite Copper smelting plant that polluted their air, environment and livelihood, were killed in a police firing. Following this, the company was forced to close the smelter plant in Thoothukudi under the order from the state government on May 28.
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As Paranjoy Guha Thakurta had pointed out in one of his articles earlier, that “it is being argued that this decision (to shut down the plant) may be soon be overturned by a court of law, that many jobs would be lost and working of the economy would be disrupted,” the decision has been overturned.
“If anything was still required to be done in that regard by the appellant (Sterlite Copper), this could not be a ground for rejecting consent for renewal or for closing the unit without opportunity of hearing to the appellant. Even if there is a technical breach as contended on behalf of the respondents, the breach is trivial in nature causing no prejudice to anyone,” the order further read.
However, since the time the plant had begun its operations in 1997, various cases of environmental and human rights violations have been reported. The people in the region have reportedly been facing different issues that affect the health and livelihood of people. Though there were many protests against the plant, the company had always been enjoying silent support of the state machinery and continued its operations.
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In March 2013, the TNPCB had identified a gas leakage from the plant. Following the incident, a monitoring committee was set up to look into the matter. The committee found out that the allegations were true and the plant is polluting the environment. The committee also found out that the plant was causing health hazards. Even though the committee identified the magnitude of the issue, action against the plant for violating the regulations was confined only to a fine of Rs. 100 crore. The plant’s contribution to the cargo volume of Tuticorin port and the revenue contribution for the state and central government had forced them to dilute the action taken. But the amount is very meagre if one were to compare Vedanta’s revenue of $ 3.62 billion that had been generated through smelting copper in India and Australia between 2000 and 2017.