‘Sterlite plant has polluted groundwater, Uppar river’

NGT cannot delegate its powers, TNPCB tells SC

Updated - January 30, 2019 09:49 am IST

Published - January 29, 2019 11:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Sterlite copper plaht in Thoothukudi. File

A view of the Sterlite copper plaht in Thoothukudi. File

Pollutants have wormed their way from the Thoothukudi Sterlite copper plant into the ground water and the nearby Uppar river, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Arguing before a Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman, the Board said it was a “scientific certainty” that the plant was the cause of contamination with pollutants entering the stream and impeding the flow of the river. The ground water contains total dissolved solids (TDS) more than 20 to 40 times the permissible limit, it contended. The Board, represented by senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, said the National Green Tribunal, by setting up a committee led by former High Court Chief Justice Tarun Aggarwala to examine the Vedanta appeals, ended up delegating its adjudicatory powers. “Adjudicatory powers cannot be delegated,” Mr. Vaidyanathan submitted.

‘Onus is on Vedanta’

He argued that the onus was on Vedanta to prove that the plant was not the source of pollution.

Mr. Vaidyanathan said the case flouts long-embedded environmental norms and principles like that of sustainable development, inter-generational equity, precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. Mr. Vaidyanathan submitted that the violation of environmental norms have become so common that “the question now being asked by certain sections of industry is why are we extracting just three per cent of our mineral resources… why not more?”

The court is hearing the appeal filed by the Tamil Nadu government that the NGT failed to consider the entire gamut of data, documents and evidence before directing the Board to pass fresh orders of renewal of consent and issue authorisation to Vedanta to handle hazardous substances.

The State argued that the tribunal went outside the four walls of the statute governing its functions to appoint the Justice Aggarwala Committee to prepare a report in the case. It said the NGT was not a constitutional court liked the Supreme Court to employ unbridled powers to constitute a committee like that.

The State contended that Vedanta had not been complying with pollution norms, and the situation had severely deteriorated since 1996.

The appeal has also questioned the manner in which Vedanta approached the NGT directly when the statutory appeal against the TNPCB order to shut down the plant was pending adjudication before the appellate authority. It argued that Vedanta move to come to the NGT amounted to “forum-shopping”.

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