Chennai: The Madras High Court has declined to grant any relief to the Sterlite unit in Thoothukudi, which was closed on May 28, 2018, after the State Government intervened to say that it was maintaining the plant and there is no necessity for Vedanta Limited to step in.
Vedanta's main contention was that since the chemical plant was in a poor condition and it may cause environmental damage, the management may be permitted to enter and maintain it. The management produced photographs before the court to show that the factory was in a bad state. However, Advocate General Vijay Narayan said that the factory was under the control of the District Collector. The State Government has expertise to maintain the factory, which it has been doing since May 28, 2018. “There is a mechanism in place to look after the factory. The state will take the responsibility,” he said.
Declining to pass any interim order, a Division Bench, comprising Justice M. Sathyanarayanan and Justice M. Nirmal Kumar, ordered notice, returnable by March 27, to the State Government, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and four others. In its petitions, Vedanta Limited sought a direction to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to facilitate the immediate opening of its Plant by immediate de-sealing and restoration of electricity supply.
The company sought to quash an order of the State Government dated May 28, 2018, directing the TNPCB to close down the Plant permanently.
Earlier, senior counsel Aryama Sundaram, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that there has been motivated political activity against the Sterlite plant since its inception in 1996. The factory has been functioning with consent orders. Before the closure, Vedanta had received permission from the Union ministry of Environment and Forests to expand the factory. Because there was permission to expand the factory, there was protest, violence and police firing. This was the reason for the closure of the factory, Sundaram said.
Citing five untenable reasons, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board refused to renew the consent. This was followed by another four orders and six other consequential orders. Finally, the factory was closed, Sundaram said.
The unit was under the control of the Collector, who allegedly has no technical knowhow to maintain the factory. Therefore, till the court decides whether the orders of the authorities concerned and the closure of the factory was right or not, let the management be permitted to open the administrative wing for the limited purpose of taking care and maintaining the factory which was in bad shape, Sundaram said.
The management would give an undertaking that no production activity will be carried out, he added.
Senior Counsel P.S. Raman, also appearing for the petitioner, said that it was a peculiar case where all the licences, including boiler licence and contract labour licence, were cancelled as if they had given civil death to the factory. How the public/state was prejudiced, if the factory was put in shape? If the company loses its case, it may shift the unit elsewhere. Till then the property should be protected, Raman said. Therefore, the management may be permitted to enter the premises and maintain it, he added.
Senior Counsel A.R.L.Sunderesan, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that a running factory could not be closed unless there is a finding that it causes pollution. Even the power supply was disconnected. Power supply may be restored to maintain the factory, he said.
Senior Counsel C.S.Vaidyanathan, appearing for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, said that there was enough material to substantiate the orders. The total investment of the company was ` 3,000 crores and the profit is Rs 2,000 crores per year. The factory has earned more than what the company had invested. If somebody takes the responsibility, Vaidyanathan said, he would prove that the photograph (showing the condition of the unit), produced by Vedanta before the court, was falsehood, he added.
Senior Counsels R.Vaigai and N.G.R.Prasad, appearing for the aggrieved villagers, submitted that the lives of more than 10,000 people were at stake. Due to air and water pollution, which the company allegedly creates, the people in the locality are affected. Therefore, they may be impleaded as parties in the case, they added.
When the Bench said it was putting the government on notice since the factory was under the control of the District Collector and that the government would be responsible if any mishap occurs due to the deficiencies pointed out by the Central Pollution Control Board, Advocate General Vijay Narayan said that on June 30, 2018, two days after the plant was closed, the Collector constituted a local level committee, comprising the Sub Collector, Tuticorin, as the Chairperson, besides the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation, Joint Director, Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health and others. There is a mechanism in place to look after the factory. “The state will take up the responsibility. The state has been taking the responsibility since May 2018,” Narayan said....