Setback for TN govt, SC refuses to stay NGT order to reopen Sterlite plant
In a setback to the government of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court refused to stay the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order allowing Sterlite to resume operations in its Thoothukudi plant. The top court sought Vedanta’s, the parent company of Sterlite, response on the state government’s appeal against the NGT order.
This comes days after the Madurai bench of Madras High Court ordered that Sterlite should not be opened till January 21. The Supreme Court bench headed by justice RF Nariman, on Tuesday, refused to stay the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order which permitted Vedanta to reopen its Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi. “The directions that have been passed by the National Green Tribunal, by its judgment dated 15.12.2018, will continue to subsist and will be subject to the ultimate outcome of the appeal,” states the order.
The apex court, however, denied Sterlite’s request to resume operations immediately and granted three weeks’ time for Sterlite to fulfill all the conditions imposed by the December 15-order of NGT. The hearings will continue once Vedanta files a response on the matter.
The order came on an appeal filed by the government of Tamil Nadu against the NGT order. In its appeal, the state government had argued that the NGT did not have a jurisdiction in the matter and hence sought a stay on its order.
The Tamil Nadu government had issued orders to seal the plant in May 2018 after the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board refused to renew operating license to the plant citing violations of environmental norms.
The NGT, in its December 15 order, had chastised the state government for its decision to shut down the Thoothukudi plant. It was on May 28, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered the closure and disconnection of electricity supply under provisions of Section 33A of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and Section 31A of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1971. After Vedanta moved the NGT against the closure orders, a three-member expert committee headed by former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court Tarun Agarwal was formed to probe the matter.
Taking the same line as the expert committee, NGT stated that as long as the company is willing to abide by the pollution control norms and also take further precautions, the state cannot shut down plants based on hyper-technicalities.
The government of Tamil Nadu submitted in the Supreme Court that the NGT does not have the right to form any committee to look into the matter, and the observations made by the appointed committee were incorrect. The committee did not check the places which we had mentioned. If they had done that, they would have found that the levels of pollution in those areas were high, the state government submitted.