New Delhi: People are dying due to lack of oxygen, the Supreme Court said on Friday while questioning the Tamil Nadu government as to why it cannot take over Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin, closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns, for producing oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients.
“We are not interested that Vedanta or A, B or C runs it. We are interested that oxygen should be produced,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said.
“Somebody should say something concrete because people are dying due to lack of oxygen,” said the bench, also comprising Justices L N Rao and S R Bhat.
The apex court was hearing Vedanta’s plea seeking opening of its Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin on the ground that it would produce thousand tonnes of oxygen and give it free of cost to treat patients.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Tamil Nadu government, referred to the “law and order” situation there and said district collector had gone there today morning to talk to people on the issue.
“There is total lack of confidence there,” he said, adding that 13 persons had lost their lives earlier there.
“Yesterday, you did not told us about the law and order situation. The situation would have been different. Have you filed this on oath,” the bench asked Vaidyanathan, who said he would file an affidavit.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for organisation of affected families, said that state government can take over the unit and produce oxygen.
“We have absolutely no problem if the state of Tamil Nadu take over the plant and produce oxygen,” the bench observed, adding, “Why are they not producing oxygen when people need it”.
“The whole point of this exercise is that people in the country need it (oxygen),” the bench said, adding that Tamil Nadu might have surplus oxygen but the issue is about the whole country.
“The national assets of the country should be equally distributed among the citizens,” the bench said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the country is in “bad need of oxygen” and it is not that every state produces oxygen.
“The Central government is not concerned whether Vedanta runs it or Mr Vaidyanathan’s client runs it. Law and order problem can’t be a ground if people are dying,” Mehta said, adding, “When we have the potential capacity of 1000 tonnes, then why should we not produce it”.
The bench told Mehta, “You don't have to labour on a point which we ourselves hold. There is directive principles of state policy in the Constitution which we are sure Tamil Nadu is aware of”.