The Madras High Court on Tuesday rejected a plea by natural resources company Vedanta seeking permission to reopen its Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi . The plant was sealed by the Tamil Nadu government on May 28, 2018 due to environmental concerns.
Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan rejected the argument that the closure of the unit by the State government and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) was a knee-jerk reaction following the deaths of 13 protesters in police firing on May 22, 2018. They held that the copper unit fell under the ‘red category industry’, and therefore, it ought not to have been established inside the industrial park. Such highly polluting industries must be permitted only in areas classified as ‘special hazardous use zones’, they said.
Pointing out that the copper plant was situated within a radius of 25 km from the ecologically sensitive Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, the judges said it had escaped relocation only because of a delay in notifying the national park since 2003.
Anti-Sterlite protesters, activists and several political leaders welcomed the verdict. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) founder Vaiko, who has been demanding the closure of the plant for nearly 25 years, hailed the verdict. The Pearl City celebrated the verdict by bursting crackers and distributing sweets.
The verdict was a shock for Vedanta, the parent company, but the firm ruled out shifting the plant out of Tamil Nadu. “Nothing can be shifted, and we have to exhaust all our legal options before we can even think about [doing] it. As of now, we are not even thinking of that,” Sterlite Copper CEO Pankaj Kumar told The Hindu .