Tamil Nadu

SC rejects Sterlite’s appeal to reopen plant for 30 days

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a proposal made by Vedanta Sterlite to operate its closed copper plant in Thoothukudi for 30 days under the supervision of an expert committee appointed by the court.

The company mooted the idea so that the court could ascertain whether the plant was complying with pollution norms. Vedanta said its plant met 36% of the need for copper in the country and it was not in public interest to keep it closed. But a Bench led by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, in a short order, refused the proposal point-blank.

The Tamil Nadu government, represented by senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan and Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan, said the proposal was only a “ruse to open” a plant which had been polluting for over 20 years. The Madras High Court had ordered its permanent closure and sealing. The plant has been closed since May 2018.

The top court said it would hear the main appeal filed by the company against the HC order later.

On Wednesday, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Vedanta, argued that the question whether the plant complied with pollution norms or not could be ascertained by the court only if it was allowed to resume operations for 30 days. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating... Can this country afford the closure of a plant which takes care of 36% of the need for copper?” he submitted.

He said the plant, established in 1995, was upgraded periodically with the best available technology. Its overall asset value is ₹3,630 crore.

The factory employed 4,000 people directly and another 20,000 indirectly, he added. Its contribution to the Central exchequer was ₹2,559 crore. Senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for the State pollution authorities, countered that the “trial run” proposal was an “ingenious” way to reopen the factory without arguing the main appeal against the Madras HC’s decision of permanent closure.

Mr. Srinivasan submitted that the purported basis of seeking such an “extraordinary prayer” was to enable ascertainment of compliances in 2020, when the plant has been shut down on account of non-compliance and pollution between 2013-2018 and beyond.

He said the company, through “deliberate half-truths”, was trying to actually restore the plant and create a fait accompli.

“Now, they [Vedanta] want a trial run of 30 days, while earlier they had cried hoarse that operations cannot be started within a short period as the plant was in a state of disrepair,” the Tamil Nadu government countered.

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

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 7:22:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/sc-rejects-sterlites-appeal-to-reopen-plant-for-30-days/article33235468.ece

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