The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the pollution level of the groundwater in and around Vedanta group's Sterlite copper smelting plant in the state was very high and that there was no remedy to restore it to permissible levels.
Describing the situation as "unfortunate", senior counsel CA Vaidyanathan told the bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Navin Sinha that the "desirable level of water is 500 TDS and the permissible level is 2000 TDS but what is prevailing today is 15,000 to 20,000 TDS".
Telling the court that there was no way to cure that level of groundwater pollution in the area, Vaidvanathan appearing for TNPCB said that the only remedy was heavy rains but Thoothukudi area where the plant is located get scanty rains.
"In Tuticorin, the rainfall is scant and not enough for the dilution of the high level of water pollution", Vaidvanathan told the court.
Defending the decision to close down the plant permanently, Vaidyanathan said that they have evidence that the groundwater has been contaminated because of the pollutants from the plant.
Questioning the jurisdiction of the green tribunal to deal with the matter, Vaidyanathan said: "the green tribunal could not have constituted a committee for going into the issue. That is not contemplated under the NGT Act. Adjudicating powers can't be delegated."
The court is hearing a plea by Tamil Nadu government and TNPCB challenging the December 15, 2018, order of the NGT directing the TNPCB to pass a fresh order allowing renewal of consent for the operation of the plant within three weeks.
Setting aside the Tamil Nadu government's May 28, 2018 order to permanently close the Vedanta's copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi, the NGT had by its December 15 order directed the TNPCB to pass a fresh order allowing renewal of consent for the plant within three weeks.
The Tamil Nadu government on January 2 moved the top court challenging the December 15 NGT order. It said the operation of the plant had caused irreversible water pollution.
The plant was put under lock on May 28, 2018, when the state government ordered the TNPCB to seal and "permanently" close the plant in the wake of violent protests.