Tuticorin protests: Madras HC restrains NGT order allowing Sterlite plant to reopen, asks Tamil Nadu govt to decide on filing appeal

Madurai: In a setback to Sterlite, the Madras High Court on Friday ordered status quo as existed before the National Green Tribunal set aside a Tamil Nadu government order for the closure of the company's copper plant in Tuticorin.

Justices KK Sasindhran and PD Audikesavalu of the Madurai Bench also restrained the Vedanta group from taking any steps to reopen the unit.

Hearing a petition against reopening of the Sterlite unit following the 15 December NGT order, the court directed that status quo will continue till 21 January and ordered the state government to inform the court by the deadline whether it intended to file an appeal against the tribunal verdict.

The bench issued a notice to the state chief secretary and the Chief Executive Officer of Sterlite to file their counter. The court was hearing a petition filed by Fatima of Tuticorin opposing re-opening of the copper smelter plant.

The petition noted that prima facie, Fatima was right in her contention that she "had been denied an opportunity to make a mention before the tribunal" because the order had not been "pronounced" in an open court, but had been "uploaded" on the official website.

The state government had, on 28 May, ordered the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to seal and "permanently" close the mining group's copper plant following violent protests by locals over pollution concerns.

On an appeal by the Sterlite, the NGT had quashed the order, holding that that it was "non-sustainable" and "unjustified".

A bench headed by NGT chairperson AK Goel had asked the TNPCB to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from 15 December.

Reacting to the development, the state government had on the same day said it would file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the tribunal order.

Sterlite had on 20 December said it had sought permission from the TNPCB for reopening the plant.

The petitioner alleged that the NGT order was available on the Internet even before the tribunal pronounced its verdict and accused the Vedanta group of being behind it.

Hence, the NGT order should be set aside and permission should not be granted to reopen the factory, she contended.

The state government had ordered closure of the unit following violent protests by locals, leading to the death of 13 people in police firing on 22 and 23 May in Tuticorin. The locals had been agitating against the Sterlite unit alleging that it was causing pollution.

After the NGT order too, several outfits with the backing of the Left parties and local religious bodies have been agitating against the Sterlite unit, prompting the police to tighten security to it and also at important places in the southern district.

The green panel in its order has said Sterlite should spend within three years Rs 100 crore on welfare of inhabitants of the area as offered by it during the hearing.

The bench had also suggested that the company take steps for safeguarding environment, like creating a dedicated website where the stakeholders can lodge their environment related grievances.

Addressing media in Chennai on 20 December, Sterlite Chief Executive Officer P Ramnath had said after getting the TNPCB permission, it would take about two months for making the plant operational.

"We have already approached the TNPCB. As per the NGT order, they (TNPCB) have been given three weeks to renew the consent. We have also made our request to the TNPCB," he said.

Updated Date: Dec 24, 2018 13:04:35 IST