Chennai: The National Green Tribunal on Saturday ordered the reopening of Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries Ltd’s copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi, months after the smelter was ordered shut by the Tamil Nadu government over alleged pollution that led to violent protests and culminated in police opening fire on demonstrators and killing 13. The Tamil Nadu government will move the Supreme Court against the NGT’s order.
Environment minister K.C. Karuppanan said the state government will challenge the NGT’s final order, which set aside the government’s order for closure of the plant.
In the wake of the police firing on 22 and 23 May that killed 13 people protesting against the plant, the state government ordered a permanent closure of the copper smelting unit.
On Saturday, while passing its order, the NGT directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, “subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today."
“The appellant will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations," the tribunal said.
Terming the closure “unjustifiable", the tribunal also has directed Vedanta to spend ₹ 100 crore over the next three years for Thoothukudi’s “welfare activities."
When ordering the closure of the Sterlite unit, the government of Tamil Nadu had stated that it endorsed the closure direction of the TNPCB, and also directed the board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act, 1974, “in the larger public interest."
It had also added that under the Article 48 A of the Constitution, “the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country".
However, on Saturday, the NGT Bench headed by its chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the Tamil Nadu government’s order issued under Section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act cannot be referred to as an independent order “but relied on and endorsing the views of the TNPCB, which is under challenge and are not sufficient for ordering closure or refusal to grant even consent."
“If there are no other materials for the government of Tamil Nadu to arrive at the conclusion of closure on the ground of irreversible pollution being caused to the environment allowing the unit to function, then it cannot be said to be a policy decision to close down the industry permanently. If any order was passed based on the order by the Pollution Control Board, without independent application of mind and arbitrarily, then that can also be incidentally considered by the tribunal for the purpose of deciding the question of legality of that order," the NGT said in its order.
Also read: Fear and loathing in troubled Thoothukudi