Madurai: The Vedanta group’s Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi on Friday suffered a serious setback with the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court ordering that status quo be maintained. The court order means the recent green signal to reopen from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) gets stayed.
Sterlite Copper reacted saying it would move the Supreme Court against the High Court’s status quo order. The company would "move the Supreme Court to help implement the NGT order, in early January", Sterlite CEO P Ramnath said in a statement issued late night here.
The setback in the Madurai HC came barely hours after Ramnath's media meet at Chennai where he had announced that the smelter unit would go operational within two months after getting the clearance from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.
“We have already approached the TNPCB. As per the NGT order (of December 15), they (TNPCB) have been given three weeks to renew the consent. We have also made our request to the TNPCB,” he had said.
The status quo order from the Madurai Bench was in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by anti-Sterlite activist Fathima from Thoothukudi seeking the quashing of the recent order of the NGT allowing the plant to resume operation and even slamming the Tamil Nadu Government - the TNPCB to be precise - for shutting down and sealing the smelter without giving Sterlite opportunity to explain its position and address any operational/environment issues.
In her petition, Fathima gave a detailed statement of her version of the long 'struggle' by the green activists and the local people against the Sterlite plant. She also alleged that the NGT order was available on the Internet even before NGT pronounced its verdict and accused the Vedanta group of being behind it.
Hence, the tribunal order should be set aside and permission should not be granted to reopen the factory, she contended.
Ordering the status quo on the Sterlite closure "till further orders", the Bench comprising Justices KK Sasidharan and PD Audikesavalu asked the Tamil Nadu government to state before January 21, 2019, if it was going for an appeal to the Supreme Court against the NGT order. The court also issued notices to the state government and Vedanta Limited in this matter and posted the case for January 21.
The state government had, on May 28, ordered TNPCB to seal and "permanently" close the Sterlite plant following violent protests by locals over pollution concerns - 13 protesters were killed in police firing when the agitation turned violent on its 100th day. Sterlite appealed to the NGT against the closure order and the Tribunal quashed the closure order, holding that that it was "non-sustainable" and "unjustified".
In ordering that the plant be reopened, the NGT had gone by the report given by an expert committee headed by former Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal which visited the plant and also conducted public hearings at Thoothukudi and Chennai. The NGT directed the TN government to resume power supply to the plant. It also ordered that a committee be constituted to monitor the industrial waste discharged from the plant.
Sterlite's lawyer had earlier told the committee that the company was willing to spend Rs 100 crore for the welfare of Thoothukudi people. NGT, in its final hearing, took a note of this commitment and directed Sterlite to fulfill that promise within three years....