The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, refused to grant interim relief to Vedanta Sterlite declining the mining giant’s plea for immediate reopening of its copper plant at Thoothukudi.
A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman posted the case for detailed hearing in January 2021.
Vedanta, in its plea before the Supreme Court, has challenged an August 2020 decision of the Madras High Court rejecting the request to reopen the copper smelter plant.
Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi was shut down by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) in 2018, 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.
Vedanta subsequently challenged the closure order before the National Green Tribunal, which ruled in the company’s favour. This order was challenged by the TNPCB before the Supreme Court in January 2019, when the Court stated that the NGT order of reopening of the plant will continue to operate during the pendency of the appeal.
The Supreme Court, in February 2019, set aside the NGT order allowing the reopening of the Sterlite plant, on the ground that the NGT did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the case. However, Vedanta was allowed to move the High Court against the orders passed against it.
The High Court then rejected the plea prompting the present appeal before the Supreme Court.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Vedanta, submitted on Wednesday that the plant provides direct employment to 4000 people, indirect employment to about 20,000.
“Trickle down dependants are more than 2 lakh. Supplying 36% of the country’s copper needs. Now India is becoming dependant on Copper imports,” he claimed.
Closure of the the Sterlite plant has made India a net importer, he added.
He also submitted that all necessary approvals and environmental safeguards were in place.
The Tamil Nadu government through Senior Advocate KV Viswanathan and Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan opposed the plea submitting that report by PCB proved that the plant was a “consistent” polluter.
“Sterlite has dumped slag at 11 places in Thoothukudi. It is as if Thoothukudi is dumped between the slags,” Viswanathan submitted.
He added that interim arrangement to reopen the plant cannot be allowed at this stage particularly since the High Court had upheld the PCB order for closing the plant.
The Court refused to entertain prayer for interim relief and posted the case for further consideration in January next year.