CJI unhappy with TN govt’s opposition to reopening of Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi

The Tamil Nadu government told the Supreme Court that opening of the Sterlite plant will cause a law and order issue.
The gate of the Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi
The gate of the Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi

The Tamil Nadu government on Friday told the Supreme Court that there will be a law and order problem if Vedanta’s Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi opens the plant for oxygen production. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, however, said that the government cannot make such a comment when people are dying due to lack of oxygen.

The Supreme Court is hearing a plea filed by Vedanta asking that its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu be opened so that it can help provide oxygen amid the COVID-19 crisis. The Sterlite plant, which allegedly was found to be violating environmental norms, has been closed since 2018 after 13 people were killed in protests against the plant

On behalf of the Tamil Nadu government, Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan told the apex court that people in the district have resentment against the company, and if the plant is reopened, district administration may find it difficult to handle the situation. The Supreme Court has asked whether the government is willing to file an affidavit stating the same, Live Law reported.

“There is a total lack of confidence among local people. There was a shooting incident which had killed 13 people. There will be law and order issues if Vedanta opens the plant. District administration will find it difficult to handle,” CS Vaidyanathan told the Supreme Court. 

However, the Supreme Court said that even if Tamil Nadu does not have an absolute dire need for oxygen, the plant can help supply it to other parts of the country which are facing a shortage of oxygen. 

“When people are dying, Tamil Nadu cannot say you cannot open because of law and order issues. It is not about Vedanta or any other company. The state government cannot make such an argument,” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said. 

The court then posted the matter for further hearing on Monday, April 26, allowing the Tamil Nadu government to file its affidavit on law and order issues.

On April 23 morning, a big group of protestors arrived at the Thoothukudi Collector’s office and opposed the re-opening of the plant. The Collector had asked people to come to the office to understand their standpoint. A few people who were in support of opening the plant also reached the Collector’s office. The protestors said that the protests against the plant had ended in the death of 13 people and they will not allow it to re-open.

The Vedanta group initially wrote letters to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary offering to supply oxygen from its closed Sterlite Copper. Later, it approached the Supreme Court. It is this petition that the court is hearing now.

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