The Supreme Court on Friday took exception to the State of Tamil Nadu’s stance that the Vedanta’s Oxygen plant cannot be reopened due to potential law and order problems it could create.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said that if Vedanta cannot be allowed to run the plant, then the Tamil Nadu government should take over the same and run the plant to enable Oxygen production during COVID-19 crisis.
Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for State of Tamil Nadu, told the Court that reopening of the Oxygen plant could be an invitation for law and order and problems since the public is opposed to the same.
“I don’t want a repeat of 2018 incident,” said Vaidyanathan referring to an incident of police firing in which people protesting against Vedanta’s Tuticorn Copper smelter had died.
The Court suggested that the State government can take over and produce Oxygen.
“Why don’t you fulfil your responsibility in manufacturing oxygen? Just because you have problem with vedanta you will not manufacture oxygen? What kind of argument is this. We are not interested whether Vedanta or A, B, or C runs it. We are interested in ensuring Oxygen is produced. It is not a question of Vedanta. People are dying. You (State) can produce Oxygen,” the Court said.
The Central government through Solicitor General also agreed to the Court’s views.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves appearing for respondent, said that Tamil Nadu is not manufacturing Oxygen because it is an Oxygen surplus State.
This, he said, was even recorded in an order passed by the Madras High Court yesterday.
CJI Bobde, however, responded that other States are in need of Oxygen and that resources of the country should be distributed equally, which is a directive principle of state policy under the Constitution.
Vaidyanathan said that he will speak to the government officials and get back to the Court on reopening the plant.
The Court agreed to the same and kept the matter for hearing on Monday.
Senior Counsel Harish Salve had mentioned the matter on Thursday seeking urgent listing of the case stating that if Oxygen plant is opened, they could supply Oxygen which could benefit COVID-19 patients.
The Central government had supported the move while the Tamil Nadu government opposed it.
The hearing came as part of Vedanta’s pending appeal before the Supreme Court against the decision of the Madras High Court which had refused to allow the reopening of the mining company’s copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi.
Vedanta had approached the Supreme Court in August 2020 against the decision of the Madras High Court. A Bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman had issued notice but declined to grant any interim relief.
The matter was slated to come up on August 17 when the present urgent application was moved.
Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi was shut down by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) last year, citing violations of environmental laws. The closure order was passed immediately after the plant had turned into a protest site, with citizens opposing the expansion of the plant. The order was supported by the State government, which endorsed the same within a week.
The protest took a violent turn on its hundredth day when police opened fire on the protesters, leading to several civilian casualties.