The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Saturday set aside Tamil Nadu government’s closure order on Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin terming it as “unjustifiable”. It also directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent.
The green court also directed Vedanta Ltd to spend Rs 100 crore over three years for “welfare activities” of the inhabitants in the area.
In its submission before the tribunal, Vedanta had offered to invest Rs 100 crore for the welfare of the people apart from the regular CSR activities carried out by the firm.
Following this, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said the government will challenge the NGT verdict in the Supreme Court.
The order was passed by the tribunal after a three-member panel was constituted by the NGT to look into the allegations of environmental pollution against the mining giant.
In October, Tamil Nadu parties, including the main opposition DMK and also an anti-Sterlite body had urged the panel to recommend endorsing the state’s closure of the Sterlite plant.
The Tamil Nadu government had, on May 28, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and “permanently” close the mining group’s copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.
Earlier in April, the Tamil Nadu pollution control board had rejected Sterlite’s plea to renew the Consent To Operate certification, saying the company had not complied with the stipulated conditions.
Following this, the government issued a permanent closure notice to the plant.
Vedanta’s plea in the NGT seeks permission to operate the unit and a direction to declare as unlawful and illegal the exercise of powers by the Tamil Nadu government in passing the closure order under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act.
Sterlite’s factory had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak led to the death of one person and injuries to several others, after which then chief minister J Jayalalithaa had ordered its closure.
The company had then appealed to the NGT, which had overturned the government order. The state had then moved the Supreme Court against it.
The Supreme Court had then ordered the company to pay Rs 100 crore as compensation for polluting environment.
Following the latest protests and police firing, the plant was closed on March 27.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Thoothukudi plant, villagers around it started fresh protests that continued for over 100 days, culminating in the May 22 police firing on protestors that claimed 13 lives and left scores injured.
On September 10, the Supreme Court asked NGT to decide on the merits and maintainability of the issue raised by the Tamil Nadu government on Vedanta’s plea, challenging the closure of its plant.
(With PTI inputs)