Bench passes interim order following appeal against TNPCB order

The National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench, on Friday decided to constitute an Expert Committee to assess the situation in Sterlite’s copper plant in Tuticorin which was closed recently on the complaints of excessive emission of sulphur dioxide.

The Bench comprising its judicial member Justice M.Chockalingam and expert member Prof.Nagendran passed the interim order following an appeal filed by Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd against the order of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) closing its copper smelter plant and disconnecting power supply to it. They also made it clear that it can decide on its interim stay only after receiving a report from the Committee while directing it to submit the report on or before April 29.

Sterlite’s appeal was opposed by the respondents, including the TNPCB, and MDMK general secretary Vaiko, Fathima Babu, a resident of Tuticorin, and the National Trust for Clean Environment.

The Bench noted that those opposed to the plant said the machinery and instruments in the plant were not in proper condition and that this led to excessive sulphur dioxide emission and posed a health hazard. Counsel for Sterlite, on the other hand, said everything was in perfect working condition. “Hence, it becomes necessary to appoint an expert committee.”

The Tribunal said the Committee would consist of a chairman and a member and they should be assisted by representatives from the TNPCB and the company. The names would be given at the next hearing.

The Expert Committee will assess and appraise the actual working condition of the Sulphur dioxide (SO2) analyser, its current status, the routing of gas and the current actual emission values, when the plant is in operation during the study. It will also measure the emission of SO2 from all applicable stacks and oversee the process of calibration of the analyzer. The Committee will find out the location, working condition and data record system of monitoring stations under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme.

The Tribunal also permitted the company to operate the unit precisely for the inspection and study as per standard operating practice.

Earlier, T.R. Rajagopal, senior counsel for Sterlite, submitted that it was incorrect to say that there was excess emission from the plant. The District Collector himself issued a press note stating that the emission of SO2 was within the limits.

Mr. Vaiko submitted that Sterlite’s appeal was filed on April 1 only after expiry of valid consent. Therefore, the plant should not be legally permitted to re-open it until a valid consent to operate is obtained. Sterlite has been emitting sulphur dioxide that has affected people in the entire area and they suffered suffocation and other health hazards. It was a pernicious menace to the people living near that area. He also alleged that it was still importing copper concentrate which contained arsenic, bismuth and uranium, which are substances that highly pollute the environment.

D. Nagasaila, counsel for Ms. Fathima Babu, submitted supporting affidavits of seven local doctors and patients in support of her contentions. She also contended that there were a large number of people affected by the emission.

At one stage, the Tribunal expressed displeasure over the absence of any official to assist the advocate for the Tuticorin Collector.

Rs. 100-crore fine on Sterlite
Will Supreme Court rap force industry to clean up?
Too small a fine to hurt