Mining company Vedanta Ltd Friday offered before the National Green Tribunal that it would invest Rs 100 crore at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu for the welfare of people in addition to the regular social work being carried out by it under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The submission was made by Vedanta's counsel during the hearing on its plea challenging closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin, where a massive protest was witnessed on May 22 against pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.
At least 13 people were killed and several were injured on May 22 when police had opened fire on a crowd of people staging protest there.
The firm told a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice A K Goel that its plea challenging closure of the plant was "maintainable" as per various provisions.
The firm said there was not "enough proof" to suggest that it was affecting the health of people there.
Senior advocate C A Sundaram, appearing for Vedanta, said their plea has merits and they have accepted the report of an independent committee, constituted by the green tribunal to look into the allegations of environmental pollution by Vedanta-owned Sterlite copper factory.
"The impugned orders cannot be sustained as it is against the principles of natural justice. No notice or opportunity of hearing was given to the appellant. The grounds mentioned in the impugned orders are not that grievous to justify permanent closure of the factory. Other issues raised also does not justify the closure of the factory even if the appellant was found to be violating the conditions/norms/ directions," the committee had said.
During the hearing on Friday, Sundaram said they would address all the issues mentioned in the committee's report.
He said Vedanta has offered to invest Rs 100 crores for the people of Thoothukudi and the money could be used to construct schools, hospitals and supply of drinking water.
He said this amount would be in addition to the Rs 10 crore spent by the company annually towards CSR.
He said there was not enough proof to show that Sterlite was affecting the health of people and ground water.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, representing the Tamil Nadu government, claimed that there was no provision in the NGT Act to form the committee and even the panel has certain limits.
The committee had earlier told the bench that the shutdown was not sustainable as it was "against the principles of natural justice".
He said the committee cannot state such things and it could only go to the spot, inspect it and give its report.
The bench listed the matter for December 10 for hearing further arguments.
The committee, in the report submitted in November, said that in the event the tribunal was of the opinion that the factory should commence production, the committee was of the view that it should be directed to monitor ground water quality, including heavy metals such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Silver, Copper, Fluoride in and around the factory premises and nearby villages once a month and such report should be furnished to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).
The NGT had directed that a soft copy of the report be furnished to counsel for the company, Tamil Nadu government, TNPCB and CPCB by an e-mail.
The tribunal had earlier said a credible mechanism, through which rival contentions can be balanced and final view taken, has to be evolved.
The green panel had said the committee, which include representatives of the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, may visit the site and consider technical data.
It had noted in its order that it cannot be ignored that the Copper smelting plant contributed to Copper production in the country and employed 1,300 people.
On August 9, the tribunal had allowed Vedanta to enter administrative unit inside its plant at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, observing that no environmental damage would be caused by allowing access to the section.
The green panel had, however, said the plant would remain closed and the company would not have access to its production unit and directed the district magistrate to ensure this.
On July 30, the court had refused to grant any interim relief to Vedanta, which had challenged the Tamil Nadu government's order to permanently shut down its plant, even as the firm termed the government action "political".
On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objections with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta's plea.
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