New Delhi:The National Green Tribunal has appointed former Meghalaya high court chief justice Tarun Agrawal as head of a three-member committee to decide mining company Vedanta’s plea challenging closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin.

A bench headed by chairperson A K Goel had earlier named former Punjab and Haryana high court chief justice S J Vazifdar as head of the panel, however, he expressed inability to accept the appointment stating personal reasons.

“The matter has been put up on receipt of a communication from Justice S J Vazifdar, former chief justice of Punjab & Haryana high court and former judge of Bombay high court dated 28 August expressing inability to accept the appointment in terms of the order dated 20 August for personal reasons.

“In view of above, we substitute justice S J Vazifdar by justice Tarun Agrawal, former chief justice of Meghalaya high court and former judge of Allahabad high court. All other terms of order dated 20 August will remain," the bench, also comprising justices Jawad Rahim and S P Wangdi, said.

The tribunal also made it clear that if there is any non-compliance with the order, the company would be at liberty to take its remedies or to point out the same before the committee.

“Pending the finalisation of remuneration by the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu, the Central Pollution Control Board will provide immediate logistic support and organise the visit of justice Tarun Agrawal, chairman of the committee, and other members to the site or to the venue of the hearing," the bench said.

The NGT had earlier said a credible mechanism, through which rival contentions can be balanced and a final view taken, has to be evolved. The green body had said the committee, which include representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, may visit the site and consider technical data.

It had noted in its order that it cannot be ignored that the copper smelting plant contributed to copper production in the country and employed 1,300 people.

On 9 August, the tribunal had allowed Vedanta to enter the administrative unit inside its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, observing that no environmental damage would be caused by allowing access to the section.

The green panel had, however, said the plant would remain closed and the company would not have access to its production unit and directed the district magistrate to ensure this.

On 30 July, the court had refused to grant any interim relief to Vedanta, which had challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, even as the firm termed the government action “political".

On 5 July, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objections with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta’s plea.

The Tamil Nadu government had, on 28 May, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently" close the mining group’s copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.

Earlier in April, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had rejected Sterlite’s plea to renew the ‘Consent To Operate’ certification, saying the company had not complied with the stipulated conditions.

At least 13 people were killed and several injured on 22 May when the police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.

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