It will be open to NGT to pass final order on Sterlite Industries, says Bench

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to come out with additional safety measures to ensure that the Sterlite Industries was operated free from pollution.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and J.S. Khehar gave this suggestion to senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, during the course of hearing of an appeal filed by the Tamil Nadu government challenging an interim order of the National Green Tribunal, allowing Sterlite Industries to operate its copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi.

The plant, which was ordered to be closed by the State government on March 23 following high emission of sulphur dioxide, was permitted to operate by the Tribunal on May 31. The Tribunal by an interim order had directed Sterlite Industries to implement various safety measures.

Even as Mr. Rohatgi was contending that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to pass an interim order, Justice Khehar told the counsel, “Past is past. We are with you that the plant should be 100 per cent safe. You suggest additional safety measures. We will incorporate them in our order. We will ensure that there is no pollution.”

When counsel sought time to take instructions, the Bench posted the matter for further hearing on August 5.

The Bench, taking note of the submissions of senior counsel Ariama Sundaram, appearing for Sterlites that the Tribunal had reserved its final order, said “in the meanwhile it will be open to the Tribunal to pass its final order.”

The State, in its appeal, said the closure order passed under Section 31A of the Air Act was appealable before the Appellate Authority contemplated under the Air Act and not before the Tribunal. The Tribunal could not entertain an application in its original jurisdiction directly from a polluting unit. The Tribunal failed to appreciate that since there was no mandate to the Inspection Committee to ascertain whether there was excess emission or not, the absence of any reference that the industry was not functioning properly in the report was not relevant.

It is submitted that out of 65 industries in SIPCOT, 54 were functioning and only the Respondent No. 1 industry emitted high level of SO2 gas. All other units were medium and small scale industries which are using ammonia as refrigerant and any leakage from these plants could not cause this level of discomfort to the people at large which the people faced on March 23 this year. The other units which use Boilers also did not emit any significant SO2 which can cause discomfort to the people.

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