Vedanta has been allowed to open its plant in Thoothukudi only to produce oxygen and a committee will be set up to oversee whether it is following rules and environmental norms.

Supreme Court of India
news Court Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - 15:24

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Vedanta to operate its closed oxygen plant at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu but barred it from entering and operating its copper smelting plant. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat also ordered the Tamil Nadu government to form a committee to monitor activities at Vedanta's oxygen plant, and the panel will include the District Collector and the Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police. The panel will also have a District Environmental Engineer, the Sub Collector of Thoothukudi and two government officials with knowledge of the affairs on the ground.

The bench has asked the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to draw up a panel of three environmental experts from Tamil Nadu and victims of the Sterlite copper plant pollution can choose two out of them to be on the committee. If the victims fail to nominate within 48 hours, the Tamil Nadu government should nominate two members, the court said.

The oversight committee will be at liberty to engage with the local community to assuage their concerns, the court added.

The Supreme Court has ordered that before allowing entry of any worker to the plant, Vedanta shall indicate to the committee the plan, and the committee shall take a decision on the number of personnel to be permitted within the premises for managing the oxygen generation facility.

Appearing for Vedanta, senior advocate Harish Salve said that Vedanta will be able to produce 200 MT of liquid oxygen within 10 days. The counsel appearing for the families affected by the copper plant’s pollution, Colin Gonsalves, submitted to the court Vedanta has not fulfilled its undertakings in the past, and that another bench has refused Vedanta's plea to reopen copper plant twice since sludge is still remaining in the plant.

The top court said there should be no political bickering over the generation of oxygen by Vedanta as the country is facing a national crisis. It said the order allowing Vedanta to operate its oxygen plant would not create any equity in its favour. The court’s order will be in place till July 30, 2021, after which the SC will assess the situation on the ground.

On April 23, a bench of the top court, headed by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, had said people are dying due to lack of oxygen and questioned the Tamil Nadu government on why it can't take over Vedanta's Sterlite copper unit at Thoothukudi, closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns, for producing oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients.

At an all-party meeting held on Monday, the Tamil Nadu government had agreed upon allowing Vedanta to open the oxygen plant in Thoothukudi. Eight parties at the meeting, including the AIADMK, DMK, Congress, BJP, PMK and Left parties endorsed the reopening of the plant for oxygen production.

Also read: TN govt to allow Sterlite plant to reopen for 4 months to provide oxygen supply

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