Justices M Sathyanarayanan and B Nirmal Kumar of the Madras High Court on Friday declined to provide interim relief to Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper for accessing its plant in Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu. The plant was shut by the state government in May 2018, following tensions over the police shooting of 14 civilians during the anti-Sterlite protests. Sterlite had moved a petition at the Madras High Court, challenging the series of closure orders passed against the plant in April 2018. On February 18, the Supreme Court upheld its decision to issue closure orders to the plant, noting that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) did not have the authority to repeal the government order against Sterlite.
Recording an undertaking from Advocate General Vijay Narayan on the matter, the Court, however, cautioned the state that it would solely be held responsible for any environmental mishaps that may take place, while the plant was in its care. CS Vaidyanathan, senior counsel for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also contended that contrary to Sterlite's submissions, the government had the wherewithal to maintain the plant under its care. It is to be noted that in June 2018, a month after the plant was shut, a sulphuric acid leak broke out at the plant, prompting Sterlite to seek permission to access the plant for maintenance. The copper smelter has told the Madras High Court that the sulphuric acid leak in the plant, which the district administration had termed 'minor,' could pose 'grave risk and danger' to the unit and the area surrounding it.
According to one report in Bar and Bench, senior counsel Aryama Sundaram who appeared to make Sterlite's case on Friday argued that the Tamil Nadu government was embarrassed and that the move to shut the plant was politically motivated. The counsel reportedly cited that the state-owned Thoothukudi Thermal Power Station caused 70 percent of the sulphur dioxide emissions in the area.
While the state government, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board have been asked to respond, the matter was posted for further hearing on March 27.