New Delhi, December 3: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the interim plea of Vedanta seeking permission to inspect its Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, which is closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns, and to operate it for four weeks to assess the pollution level.
A bench led by justice RF Nariman refused to accept the company’s request that the best way to find out if the plant actually pollutes the area will be to restart it on a trial basis. However, the apex court said it will hear the main matter when court resumes physical hearings, the Financial Express reported.
Terming the closure a “witch-hunt”, senior counsel AM Singhvi, appearing for Vedanta, said the policy decision cannot be for one unit while leaving out others. Vedanta said its plant had been effectively shut for around 30 months and would take at least three months to restart the operations.
According to Singhvi, apart from Vedanta’s own investment of Rs 3,727 crore at stake, it also provided employment directly to 4,000 people and indirectly to 20,000 people.
Singhvi added that its closure has impacted 2,00,000 dependents by virtue of the downstream industries. “When operational it met 36% of the country’s copper needs. Its contribution to the Central exchequer, thus far has been Rs 2,559 crore, and it contributed to 7% of the traffic at the Tuticorin port. The unit’s closure has resulted in India becoming a net importer of refined copper after 18 years,” Singhvi contended.
However, the Tamil Nadu government opposed the Vedanta’s plea saying it is a “persistent polluter” and the pollution has worsened when the SC had allowed Sterlite to operate the plant in 2011.
In April last year, the Supreme Court while dismissing Vedanta’s plea for reopening of the copper smelting plant for maintenance had granted the liberty to the company to approach the HC. The top court had on February 18 last year set aside a National Green Tribunal order of December 15, 2018, which had allowed the firm to reopen the plant. It had said the NGT did not have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal against the TN government’s decision.
The Madras High Court had on August 18 upheld the TN government’s May 2018 decision to close down Sterlite Copper over allegations of polluting the environment in the district.