The Madurai bench of Madras High court on Tuesday ordered the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to assess the damage caused in the Uppar river in Thoothukudi due to the dumping of waste by Sterlite copper smelter plant.
The order came on a petition filed by Muthuraman from Tirunelveli. In his petition, he had stated that Sterlite was given permission to operate out of Meelavittan village on the condition that the plant should inform TNPCB whenever it is taking out industrial waste out of the plant. However, the company has violated the rule and dumped around 3.53 lakh tonnes of industrial waste into the Uppar river without informing TNPCB or the District Environmental Engineer (DEE), alleged the petitioner.
The petitioner also added that TNPCB or the DEE can, in fact, initiate action against Sterlite, but they have not done that yet. Muthuraman then requested the court to initiate criminal proceedings against Sterlite.
The petition was heard by a division bench consisting of Justices N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar, who ordered the Tamil Nadu government to assess the extent of environmental damage caused by such release of effluents and submit a report. The judges also ordered TNPCB to submit a report with ways to undo the damage caused by such dumping and posted the case for February 20 for next hearing.
The three-member committee headed by former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court Tarun Agarwal had also mentioned in its report about the slag dumped in the Uppar river by Sterlite. The panel was put in place by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) inspect the alleged environmental violations in and around the plant. After inspections, the report stated that the company had not removed slag from the banks of the Uppar river and this was affecting the flow of the water body.
Para 119 of its report states, “The appellant company could not have sold slag more than what was required to fill up the low-lying area. The quantity sold in excess was wholly inappropriate. The contention of the appellant that it is not their responsibility to remove the copper slag is erroneous. The committee is of the opinion that the retaining wall so constructed was inadequate and in any case, copper slag could not have been dumped next to the Uppar river. It is the responsibility of the appellant company to ensure that the copper slag is put to beneficial use and is not dumped haphazardly.”
The report also points out that the flow of the river was affected by this: "According to the Collector, this copper slag resulted in the diversion of the flow of the river during the rainy season last year (i.e. 2017). As a result the rain water came into the Collectorate and in other offices and into the city. This was only because of the obstruction of the flow of the river by the copper slag dumped next to the river."