Sterlite seeks new panel for inspection of Tuticorin plant; TN govt opposes

The company has also made an interim prayer for permission to take up maintenance work

Sterlite, Thoothukudi
The Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu | Photo: PTI

The Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday opposed in the Madras High Court a plea of Sterlite Industries seeking appointment of an independent committee to inspect its copper smelter unit in Tuticorin which has been closed permanently over pollution concerns.

Arguing before a bench of justices M Sathyanarayanan and M Nirmal Kumar, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) contended that the existing committee appointed by the state government may be directed to undertake the inspection in the presence of the company officials.

The bench was hearing a batch of petitions by Sterlite, a Vedanta group firm, seeking a direction to quash the May 23, 2018 order of TNPCB refusing renewal consent to the plant and directing permanent closure, and impleading petitions including one from MDMK leader Vaiko.

Besides, the company has also made an interim prayer for permission to take up maintenance work.

Senior counsel C A Sundaram for Sterlite sought appointment of an independent committee comprising officials from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Central Pollution Control Board for carrying out an inspection at the copper plant in the presence of the company officials.

He contended that the high-power committee appointed by the state government by June 21, 2018 order has very limited role to play and its term had expired.

Claiming that no proper maintenance was being carried out in the copper plant premises, which is under the custody of the state government, he said the independent committee was needed to look into the matter.

Opposing the plea, C S Vaidyanathan, senior counsel appearing on behalf of TNPCB, submitted the state government committee was a permanent one and in the absence of any specific allegations about its neutrality or otherwise, the court cannot set up another panel.

Vaiko submitted he had been opposing the functioning of the Sterlite factory and therefore he was a proper and necessary party to be impleaded.

The bench in its order said a detailed hearing has to be given even on the impleading pleas as the company has opposed the petitions.

Referring to the change in judges' roster in the next few days, it said the bench concerned would have the option to take up the matters for final disposal and posted the matter for further hearing to June 11.

The state government ordered closure of Sterlite's copper unit in the backdrop of protests by the locals against it turning violent and resulting in the death of 13 people in police firing on May 22, 2018.

The National Green Tribunal later allowed the opening of the copper unit, but the Supreme Court had on February 18 set aside the order. It, however, gave liberty to Sterlite to approach the high court against the closure order.