New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) to submit a fresh pollution report on the Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd’s copper smelter located near Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
The order came amid debate over whether the plant was within prescribed pollution limits, an issue the Central and state pollution control boards continued to disagree on before the court.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the plant could be allowed to function if the company made some rectifications.
On 24 January, the last time the court took up the case, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had raised four areas of concern—non-completion of a facility to store hazardous raw materials; waste disposal; gas emissions; and failure to develop a stipulated green area.
A bench of justices R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik told Sterlite’s counsel: “If you don’t do it you are at your own risk,” suggesting that the court may be forced to shut the plant in the event of non-compliance.
The smelter was briefly shut by the Madras high court in September, but was allowed to resume after Sterlite appealed to the Supreme Court.
“Tell us what needs to be set right and we will do it. If they (Sterlite) don’t do it, we will direct closure,” the court told lawyers representing the pollution control boards.
Interestingly, this is the third report that Neeri has been asked to issue on the smelter. Its previous reports of July 2003 and March 2005 were conflicting in nature.
Sterlite, owned by Vedanta Resources Plc, was ordered to pay for the new report, while the CPCB, TNPCB and the public interest litigators have been asked to assist Neeri, which has eight weeks to submit its findings.
Vaiko, a former member of Parliament and leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam political party, who is personally appearing as a party in the case, argued that the plant was endangering the lives of local communities.
“The whole air and land is contaminated. The plant is totally in detriment to the entire humanity in the vicinity,” he said.
Out of samples from six different areas, only one of the locations showed excess pollution levels, Sterlite’s counsel said. He attributed this to vehicular movement and other manufacturing units in the surrounding area.
He also said the plant had initiated measures to comply with all the conditions imposed upon it, adding that there was a large thermal power plant in the same area that was not subjected to the same air pollution standards as Sterlite’s smelter.