The National Green Tribunal on Thursday appointed P.S.T. Sai, an IIT professor, as chairman of the Expert Committee that will assess Sterlite’s copper smelter plant in Tuticorin. Ligy Philip, another IIT professor has been made a member. The Committee was tasked to make a spot inspection of the plant which was closed recently , and submit its report on or before April 29.

The Bench, comprising Justice M. Chockalingam and R. Nagendran, also constituted the Committee along with representatives from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and Sterlite (India) Ltd. The Bench was hearing appeals filed by Sterlite against the TNPCB’s orders, dated March 29, on the closure of the plant and the disconnection of the power supply to plant.

Raising preliminary objections to the hearing of the appeal, Advocate General A.L. Somayaji said the TNPCB passed the closure order under Section 31A of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Section 31 of the said Act contemplates an appeal to the appellate authority within 30 days. Hence, the statutory appeal remedy lies only before the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Appellate Authority.

The first appellate authority was already constituted but not functional. In such situation, the Green Tribunal, a second appellate authority, should not assume the power of the first appellate authority. Under these circumstances, he said the appeal is not legally maintainable.

Mr. Chockalingam questioned what the TNPCB and other authorities were doing when they have stated that there were 84 incidents of emission from Sterlite in excess, in the recent past. He also asked why the matter was not brought before the Supreme Court.

Making replies to the queries, Mr. Somayaji said the emission of sulphur dioxide was not the issue before the Supreme Court. The emission from Sterlite on March was not an isolated incident. It was going on for a longer period and now a lot of people suffered at an intolerable level.

Mr. Somayaji further said the argument that not only Sterlite but also other companies’ factories were also reason for emission was not true as there were only three major factories. Of the three, Spic was not operational, while Darangadara Chemical Works (DCW) is located far off. Hence Sterlite was the major emitter of sulphur dioxide.

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