The Madras High Court on Tuesday criticised Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelting plant at Meelavittan in Thoothukudi district by stating that it takes time for pollution to set in, and that the effect of the pollution caused by the plant in 1997 could be seen today on Thoothukudi soil.
Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan said Vedanta could not rest upon certain observations made by the National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI) in a test report submitted way back in 2011 to absolve itself from the charge of causing water pollution.
“Any test report can be a reflection of the state of affairs at a given point of time. There is no guarantee that [the] situation will not worsen after [the submission of] a report. For pollution to set in, it may take time, and nature by itself is very tolerant and will not explode spontaneously except when incidents like leakage of gas or fire or any other industrial calamity arise,” the court said.
Further, finding the plant guilty of not having created a green belt around its campus as per norms by planting the required number of trees, the judges said: “The endeavour should be to surpass the minimum requirement as mentioned in the guidelines. But the attitude of the petitioner in this regard is unbecoming of a corporate Mayor.”
The Bench also held that Vedanta had not disclosed the actual extent of land that was in its occupation while seeking permission for the expansion of its activities. It stated that the copper plant did not have 172.17 hectares as claimed by Vedanta, and hence, the environmental clearance given for the expansion in 2007 should be construed as non-est.
Not willing to buy the petitioner company’s argument that not a single violation of pollution laws had been reported between 2013 and 2018, and that it had spent ₹508 crore on environmental improvement projects, the court said: “This directly goes to show that the petitioner is a highly polluting industry.”