Mining major Vedanta, which has challenged the Tamil Nadu government's order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin, on Wednesday opposed in the National Green Tribunal a plea by the MDMK general secretary Vaiko to be impleaded in the case.
Senior advocate C A Sundaram, appearing for Vedanta, said the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Thayagam was already a member in a special committee appointed by the tribunal in 2013 which was yet to submit a report on health hazards.
The tribunal in August 2013 had appointed Vaiko as one of the members in the expert panel which was asked to conduct a study on the causes for the health hazards that are resulting in and around the industrial clusters in Tuticorin.
The Tamil Nadu government had on May 28 ordered the state pollution control board to seal and "permanently" close the mining group's copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.
During its hearing here today, an NGT bench headed by Raghuvendra Singh Rathore asked the mining company to file its objection on the impleadment application filed by Vaiko, who has alleged that the state government and Sterlite have entered into a secret pact to facilitate the copper plant to resume operations.
The Tamil Nadu government, however, questioned the maintainability of the petition and said the state pollution control board's order of closure has been challenged by the company before the Appellate Authority of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the same was pending adjudication.
It sought dismissal of the plea saying, "During the pendency of the appeal, the appellants have now challenged the same impugned order before this tribunal also."
The tribunal has now asked the company to file its objection and posted the matter for hearing on July 30.
Besides Vaiko, one K S Arjunan, who is Communist Party of India (Marxist) District Secretary in Tuticorin, has also filed an impleadment plea in the case.
On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objection with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta's plea.
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. Following this, the government had issued a permanent closure notice for the plant.
Vedanta's plea in the NGT seeks permission to operate the unit and a direction to declare as unlawful and illegal the exercise of powers by the Tamil Nadu government in passing the closure order under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act.
"Direct the state pollution control board to consider the application for renewal of consent afresh and pass appropriate orders granting the same within a period of one month, for a period of five years, from the date of such consent," the plea said.
Seeking interim relief to begin operations, the company said, "Permit the appellant to operate the unit and plant pending the consideration of the instant appeal and direct the TN pollution control board to restore and provide minimum power supply, water and manpower access for safeguarding the emergency systems of the plant as it houses various chemical and fuels."
"Due to the sudden closure of the plant, the same poses a threat to the surroundings, the plant and the machinery within the plant," it said.
Sterlite's factory had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak case led to death of one person and several others getting injured, after which the the chief minister J Jayalalithaa had ordered its closure.
The company had then appealed to the NGT, which had overturned the government order. The state had then moved the Supreme Court against it and the case is still pending.
Following the latest protests and the police firing, the plant was closed on March 27. The Supreme Court has also ordered the company to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Tuticorin plant, people in villages around it started fresh protests that continued for over 100 days, culminating in the May 22 police firing on protestors that claimed 13 lives and left scores injured.