Mumbai: The Tamil Nadu government’s shutdown of Sterlite Copper Ltd’s Thoothukudi copper plant was unjustified, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said in its initial order on Wednesday, offering temporary relief to the Vedanta Group. The principal bench of the NGT asked both parties—Sterlite Copper and the Tamil Nadu government—to file submissions by next week.

“On the basis of the site visit, public hearing and after hearing the appellant firm, State of Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), and the interveners and, upon consideration of issues raised, the committee is of the opinion that the impugned orders cannot be sustained as it is against the principles of natural justice," the order read.

“The grounds mentioned in the impugned orders are not that grievous to justify permanent closure of the factory," it added. The state government had neither served a notice nor given Sterlite an opportunity to submit its arguments, observed the committee headed by the former chief justice of Meghalaya high court, Tarun Aggarwal. Mint has seen a copy of the order.

In the event of the tribunal finally ruling in favour of reopening the factory, it has issued extensive directions on how Sterlite Copper must monitor ground water quality, manage effluents, emissions, solid waste, copper slag and dead stock of gypsum. It also recommended TNPCB collect data from primary health centres and government hospitals in the region to monitor the various diseases afflicting people living in and around the factory premises.

Sterlite Copper, a unit of billionaire Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta group, runs a 400,000 tonne-capacity copper plant in Thoothukudi. The company’s plans to expand capacity at the plant attracted criticism in May when local protests broke out against the plant’s alleged pollution of local water and land resources. Eleven protestors were shot and killed by the police. On 28 May, the Tamil Nadu government ordered the plant be closed permanently, which the company challenged at the NGT.

In a statement, P. Ramnath, CEO, Sterlite Copper, said: “As a company, we have always been concerned about the well-being of our employees, the villages in and around our plant, our stakeholders and the people of Thoothukudi, and shall always remain committed to the same. We hope that the verdict will now be given soon for life to come back to normalcy for the 25,000 families impacted by the closure."

The case will be heard next on 7 December.

Close