The Madras High Court on Tuesday ordered immediate closure of the copper smelting plant set up by Sterlite Industries (India) Limited in Tuticorin.

“We are constrained to take this decision, owing to voluminous material available on record about the negative impact of the running of the industry at the place and in the manner it is being run,” a Division Bench, comprising Justices Elipe Dharmarao and N. Paul Vasanthakumar, said passing orders on a batch of writ petitions.

The petitioners included the National Trust for Clean Environment, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, Tuticorin district unit of the Communist Party of India and the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

While placing on record that they “do not want to leave the employees in the lurch,” the Judges made it clear that they were entitled for compensation from the company under section 25 FFF of the Industrial Disputes Act.

Directive to Collector

They also directed the Tuticorin District Collector to take immediate steps for re-employment of the workforce in other companies/factories/organisations keeping in view their educational and technical qualifications, besides their experience.

The company, which employs over 1,050 workers (according to a petition by an employee of the company), had been given permission to produce 391 tonnes of blister copper and 1,060 tonnes of sulphuric acid.

The petitioners had pointed out that though the company originally wanted to set up its plant in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, the State government there cancelled the licence owing to stiff opposition from people.

Explaining the reasons for revoking the licence granted to the company in Meelvattam village in Tuticorin, the Judges said courts could not afford to deal lightly with cases involving pollution of air and water.

“The materials on record show that the continuing air pollution being caused by the noxious effluents discharged…is having a more devastating effect on the people living in the surroundings. There has been unabated pollution by the respondent company, which should be stopped at least now so as to protect the mother nature from being tarred,” the Judges observed.