The Supreme Court on Thursday said it cannot be swayed by emotions or public protests in directing closure of polluting industries but have to go strictly by law in deciding demands for closing down Sterlite Industries in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district.
A bench of justices A K Patnaik and H L Gokhale wondered whether courts can intervene and direct closure even after the authorities like the pollution control board had granted the clearance.
“When a clearance has been given to an industry by the authorities, can the court go beyond the scope of clearance to direct closure of the company?
“We are not concerned with emotions. We can’t decide on emotions. We don’t go by emotions or public protests. We have to decide only on the basis of law,” the bench told MDMK leader Vaiko Gopalswamy and others seeking closure of the industry.
Sterlite Industries, a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta Group, had moved the apex court against the order of the high court which had on September 28, 2010, ordered shutting down of the smelting plant for reportedly failing to comply with environmental norms.
The SC bench made the observations after Mr. Vaiko recalled the huge public protests over the functioning of the industry and claimed its continuance would adversely affect human and cattle population.
The apex court said issues relating to closure of industries for non-conformity to environmental and other norms has to be decided on the basis of law, particularly after a plant has commenced its operations.
“Can we reverse the process? Such questions have to be determined on the basis of law. Otherwise, it will depend on the whims and fancies of the judge.
“Show us one provision of the Constitution or statute that courts can direct closure of an industry even after getting clearance,” the bench told Mr. Vaiko while posting the matter for further hearing to Tuesday next.
At the last hearing, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had submitted to the bench a joint investigation report on the emission control and effluent treatment measures undertaken by Sterlite Industries Ltd’s copper plant at Tuticorin.
The report had stated that the company had fulfilled all the norms and measures suggested.
The apex court had on October 1, 2010, in an interim direction, stayed the operation of the Madras High Court order directing the closure of the industry.
The TNPCB had earlier told the court that it had directed the company to comply with various norms relating to treatment and effective disposal of the effluents allegedly containing high amounts of gypsum, discharged from the Sterlite unit in Tuticorin.
The bench had also recorded an undertaking from Sterlite Industries that it has complied with all “green belt” and “health” facilities norms required for ensuring public safety and health.
The company, in a special leave petition against the order, had claimed the High Court did not give it a proper hearing and ignored its submissions.
The High Court had held that Sterlite’s plant was within 25km of an ecologically fragile area and the company has failed to develop a green belt of 250 metre width around the plant.
It had passed the order on a PIL filed by Vaiko and others.