Further hearing posted to December 2nd week

The Supreme Court on Monday extended its stay of a Madras High Court judgment ordering the closure of the copper plant of Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. at Tuticorin and discharge of its workers on payment of compensation.

A Bench of Justices R.V. Raveendran and H.L. Gokhale during ‘mentioning' on October 1 stayed the judgment given by a High Court Division Bench of Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice Paul Vasanthakumar on September 28 and posted the matter for hearing on Monday.

The Bench after hearing senior counsel C.A. Sundaram for Sterlite Industries, senior counsel V. Prakash for the National Trust for Clean Environment (NTCE) and counsel Harish Kumar for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), issued notice to the Union of India, the Tamil Nadu government, the TNPCB, the NTCE, MDMK general secretary Vaiko and others, who were petitioners before the High Court, and directed the matter to be listed for further hearing in the second week of December.

Earlier, when Mr. Sundaram submitted that there had not been single violation of pollution or environmental laws after 1996, Justice Raveendran told counsel, “You have not filed two reports of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) which are against you. Reports which are in your favour you have filed the full report, but when it is against you, only synopsis is filed.”

Mr. Prakash submitted that no study had been conducted so far on public health and the company had not complied with the norms on disposal of solid waste.

The Bench in its order directed the company to file the two NEERI reports of November 1998 and March 2005 and gave liberty to the company for filing other reports also. It also directed the company to file an affidavit whether it had complied with the various conditions on disposal of solid waste.

In its special leave petition, the company pointed out that the order was passed on public interest petitions filed 14 years ago in 1996, when allegations were made on violation of pollution control and environment norms by it. Between 1996 and 1999, the High Court issued various directions. All were complied with.

The plant was being operated for more than a decade with the consent and approval of statutory authorities without complaints.

The TNPCB had informed the High Court that the company complied with all statutory conditions. The company had a turnover of Rs.13,000 crore and about 2.3 lakh shareholders; 1,100 employees and 2,500 people were employed indirectly. It was the largest manufacturer and exporter of copper.

The High Court had ignored the fact that order of complete closure was irremediable. It had ignored the very purpose of orders passed involving pollution control — to ensure pollution control norms are followed.

The judgment was based on apprehensions, assumptions and presumptions. None of the petitions related to an actual incident of violation of pollution norms. Not a single complaint had been filed against the company. Closure would result in irreparable loss and have serious consequences, it said.