Chennai: The Madras high court directed Vedanta Limited (formerly Sterlite Industries Limited) to stop construction and all other activities on the site proposed for establishing unit-II of the copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi with immediate effect.
A division bench comprising Justices M.Sundar and Anita Sumanth passed the interim order on a public interest litigation from Fatima, a retired associate professor in English and a senior citizen of Thoothukudi. As of now, there was no approval granted for expansion of the unit and in the light of the admission of counsel for Vedanta, such approval can be considered only after a public hearing and consultation is conducted, said the bench while giving the directions.
The application for renewal of environmental clearance submitted by Vedanta shall be processed expeditiously after conduct of the mandatory public hearing.
In any event, the application shall be decided by the appropriate authorities within 4 months i.e., on or before September 23, 2018. In the meanwhile, Vedanta shall cease construction and all other activities on-site proposed unit-II of the copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi with immediate effect.
The bench said, “in issuing these directions, we believe that we have taken into account and balanced the interests of all parties before us, the public as well as Vedanta. While, on the one hand, the economic benefits of encouraging industries cannot be ignored, the toll extracted on available resources, water and soil regimes by such industries, cannot also be lost sight of. There is thus yet another stakeholder before us, one that is invisible in the array of parties, the environment itself. In balancing the interests of all parties to this public interest litigation, we believe that the interests of this hapless party be treated on par, if not paramount”.
The bench said the period for which the approval remains was 7 months, till December 31, 2018. Raghuvaran Gopalan, counsel for Vedanta, insisted upon being permitted to continue with the construction and went as far as to state that such construction would evidently be subject to approval being granted in the future. Should there be a scenario where Vedanta was not granted approval, he assured the court that status quo ante would be restored by the company. “We are afraid we fail to see the merit in this submission, as in our view, it lacks vision and is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. It might have been quite another matter had there been a substantial period of the approval still remaining. What remains is 7 months. Admittedly, the process of scrutiny of Vedanta’s renewal application and public consultative process has already commenced. We see no reason to permit Vedanta to continue with construction activities, investing substantial resources. We cannotbe party to what might well be a national waste of precious resources," the bench added.