A plea filed by the Vedanta-owned Sterlite Copper to re-open its factory in Thoothukudi district saw Justice KK Sasidharan of the Madras High Court recusing himself on Tuesday. A new Bench of Justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbarayan were appointed by Chief Justice VK Tahilramani.
Recusing himself, Justice KK Sasidharan said that he had previously adjudicated on the re-opening of the copper plant during his tenure at the Madurai Bench last year. In December, Justices KK Sasidharan and PD Audikesavalu ordered status quo to be maintained on the closure of the plant which was shut following the massive anti-Sterlite protest in May last year.
Sterlite's plea before the Madras High Court comes months after the Supreme Court upheld the Tamil Nadu government's decision to issue closure orders to the plant. The apex court had agreed to Tamil Nadu's argument that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not have the authority to repeal the government order against Sterlite. The court had instructed the plant to take its plea to re-open the smelter, to the Madras High Court.
The plant was closed by the state government after the people living around the plant in Thoothukudi protested against its planned expansion citing pollution concerns. On the 100th day of the protest, 13 civilians were killed when the police opened fire at the protestors, leading to the Tamil Nadu government issuing orders to shut down the plant. Following this, Vedanta approached the NGT for reopening of the plant. The NGT formed an expert committee headed by former Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal which visited the plant and also conducted public hearings in Thoothukudi and in Chennai.
The committee submitted its final report to NGT in which it recommended the reopening of the plant on certain conditions. The NGT accepted the recommendations of the committee and on December 15 directed the government of Tamil Nadu to resume power supply to the plant. The tribunal also ordered that a committee be constituted to monitor the industrial waste discharged from the plant.