Sterlite case: Supreme Court begins hearing Vedanta appeal against Madras High Court decision

Source of production, employment, says company. Source of pollution, says Tamil Nadu

March 15, 2022 10:24 pm | Updated March 16, 2022 07:13 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. File

A view of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. File | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing an appeal filed by Vedanta Ltd against the Madras High Court’s refusal to re–open its Sterlite Copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu.

Appearing before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, senior advocate Aryama Sundaram and advocate Rohini Musa forcefully argued for Vedanta that its plant was a major source of production of copper in the country and had provided employment to many people over the years.

The plant was closed in May 2018 following an order by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board over pollution concerns. Protests against the plant saw 13 people killed in police firing.

Vedanta has argued that the High Court decision to keep the plant closed was a “retrograde step”.

“Instead of being self–sufficient in copper, a situation has been created by which India now imports $2 billion worth of copper from China,” it has submitted. Vedanta had said its plant met 36% need for copper in the country and it was not in public interest to keep it closed.

The Tamil Nadu government has argued in the apex court that the plant has been a source of pollution for over 20 years and slag had been dumped all over Thoothukudi in 11 places.

Vedanta had said its plant, established in 1995, was upgraded periodically with the best available technologies. Its overall asset value was ₹3,630 crore. The factory employed 4,000 people directly and another 20,000 indirectly. The closure of the plant has affected the lives of two lakh dependents by virtue of downstream industries.

Its contribution to the Central exchequer has been ₹2,559 crore. Besides, the plant had contributed to 7% of the traffic to Thoothukudi port. The unit’s closure has resulted in India becoming a net importer of refined copper after 18 yeas, it had submitted.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, for the local residents, had earlier termed the plant as a “persistent polluter and a chronic defaulter”.

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