The National Green Tribunal on Thursday permitted Sterlite Industries to carry on its activities in its copper smelting plant at Tuticorin, subject to certain directions.

The Tribunal comprising Justice Swatanter Kumar, Chairperson and Expert Members, Dr. D. K. Agrawal, Dr. G. K. Pandey and Dr. R. C. Trivedi allowing a petition from Sterlite challenging the order of closure passed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, said “Shutting down an industry amounts to ‘civil death’ of the company.”

Evidence

The Tribunal said “A direction of closure in relation to a running unit not only results in stoppage of production but has far reaching economic, social, and labour consequences. Before directing the civil death of a company, the decision-making authority is expected to have before it some reliable and cogent evidence. There should be a direct nexus between the leakage of gas, the source of leakage and its effect/impact on ambient air quality and public health.”

The Tribunal said “there is no direct or even indirect evidence to show that there was no possibility of leakage of gas or excessive emission from any other industry except the appellant-company. The Respondent-Board, in fact, has not even brought its case with reasonable probability in contradistinction to the above beyond reasonable doubt.”

It said “the action taken by the Board on March 29 directing closure of the appellant-company’s unit was not as much of a preventive direction with reference to precautionary principle as it was a punitive measure, recourse to which was taken on the premise that there was excessive emission on March 23 and it had caused health hazards to the people residing 6-8 km away from the appellant-company’s unit. It could not be prevented as according to the Respondent-Board itself, the event had already happened and it was not an anticipated action. We have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the punitive order dated March 29, 2013, passed by the Respondent-Board is not sustainable in law.”

Expert Committee

The Tribunal said the Special Expert Committee constituted by it on May 31 should supervise and oversee the manufacturing process and industrial activity, including pollution-related issues of the appellant-company and submit a report to the Tribunal and the Board bimonthly (once in two months).

The Tribunal also constituted a Special Committee of the Secretary (Health), Government of Tamil Nadu, Member Secretary-Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu, Director General of Health Services of Tamil Nadu, Vaiko and two independent experts, one from the field of environment and the other from public health, to be nominated by the MoEF. This committee should conduct a study and place on record the causes for the health hazards that are resulting in and around the industries and the industrial clusters such as SIPCOT. The Tribunal said the committee would give the reasons why the young ladies in those villages in Tamil Nadu “are suffering from termination of pregnancies and why the people are suffering from ailments such as throat and eye irritation and suffocation in breathing.

“This committee shall further place on record the recommendations for remedying such environmental injury and health hazards. These recommendations shall be placed before the Tribunal within a period of six months.”