Centre can take action in environment’s interest: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Sterlite copper smelter plant to deposit within three months a compensation of Rs.100 crore with the Tuticorin Collector.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and H.L. Gokhale said this amount would be put in fixed deposit in a nationalised bank for a minimum of five years, renewable as and when it expired, and the interest would be spent on suitable measures for improvement of the environment after consultation with the TNPCB and approval of the Government of Tamil Nadu.

The Bench said “We also make it clear that the award of damages of Rs. 100 crore by this judgment against the appellant-company for the period from 1997 to 2012 will not stand in the way of any claim for damages for the aforesaid period or any other period in a civil court or any other forum in accordance with law.”

It noted that the plant of the appellants was situated at a distance of 6 km of Vanthivu, 7 km of Kasuwar and 15 km of Karaichalli and Villanguchalli. The four villages were part of the 21 islands in the Gulf of Munnar. Hence, the High Court directed closure of the plant because the appellant-company violated the condition of the 1995 consent order issued by the TNPCB.

It noted that the Gulf of Munnar consisting of 21 islands, including the four islands, had been notified under Section 35(1) of the Wildlife Protection) Act, 1972 on 10{+t}{+h}September 1986 and “a declaration may also be made under Section 35(4) of the said Act declaring the Gulf of Munnar as a Marine National Park.”

It said, “We have, therefore, no doubt that the Gulf of Munnar is an ecological sensitive area and the Central Government may in exercise of its powers under clause (v) of sub-section (1) of Rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on processes and operations to preserve the biological diversity of the Gulf of Munnar. As and when the Central Government issues an order under Rule 5 of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, prohibiting or restricting the location of industries within and around the Gulf of Munnar Marine National Park, appropriate steps may have to be taken by all concerned for shifting the industry of the appellants from the SIPCOT Industrial Complex…”

Vaiko praised

The Bench lauded the efforts of MDMK general secretary Vaiko for having taken up the cause of the environment.

Mr. Vaiko told the Bench that he had knocked on the doors of the court with a longing for justice to save the people living in and around Tuticorin. Justice Patnaik told him that his assistance had been recorded in the judgment and that he could continue to fight for the people.

Talking to The Hindu , Mr. Vaiko said, “We might have lost a battle now but we will continue with our war.” He said he would file a petition seeking review of the judgment.