By LE Desk

New Delhi, April 27: The controversial Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu, closed after protests in 2018 over alleged pollution, has been allowed by the Supreme Court to run an oxygen plant to help the country tackle its deepening coronavirus crisis. 

Sterlite can start produce oxygen in around ten days and should supply it for free, the apex court said, adding that an expert panel will oversee the production of oxygen. The oxygen will be given to the centre for allocation to states.

“There is a national crisis. People are dying…. We have to get the local community on our side,” said Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the bench hearing the case, NDTV reported.

“No political bickering. We are in the time of a national crisis. We are here to protect lives of citizens.We have to support nation as a court. It is a national calamity,” the court said as the Tamil Nadu government accused the centre of supporting oil-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta Ltd, which owns the plant. The centre objected to this, calling it a wrong allegation

The Supreme Court said the expert panel will decide the number of workers allowed inside the plant.

On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government had allowed Vedanta Ltd to re-open the Sterlite plant partially for four months to produce oxygen. The decision was announced after an all-party meeting where MK Stalin’s DMK suggested that Sterlite “should provide oxygen for free” to Tamil Nadu. The DMK also stressed on the monitoring of the functioning of the plant.

Vedanta on Monday said it was working with experts to resolve the logistics of dispatching oxygen. “We are committed to making the entire production capacity of 1,000 tonnes available for the purpose of producing medical grade oxygen,” it said in a statement.

Last year, the mining giant’s plea to reopen the plant was rejected by the Supreme Court. Earlier, the Madras High Court had refused to allow permission to Vedanta.

Vedanta’s appeal against the High Court order of shutting down the plant is pending in the Supreme Court.

The copper plant of Sterlite was ordered to be shut by the Tamil Nadu government in May 2018 over alleged pollution that led to violent protests the same month, culminating in police opening fire on demonstrators and killing 13. The Tamil Nadu government had ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the plant.

Environmentalists and local activists claim that the copper smelting unit was polluting the groundwater in the areaO, making many come down with serious diseases.

India’s new coronavirus infections were above three lakh for the sixth straight day as the country reported over 3.23 new cases. The alarming surge has crippled the country’s healthcare system with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere turning away patients after running out of supplies of medical oxygen and beds.

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