Is Sterlite causing pollution? ‘A firm yes’ says TN govt, NGT orders new probe panel

Meanwhile, Sterlite said in the green court that the shutting down of their plant was a cover-up for police shootings in Thoothukudi during anti-Sterlite protests.
Is Sterlite causing pollution? ‘A firm yes’ says TN govt, NGT orders new probe panel
Is Sterlite causing pollution? ‘A firm yes’ says TN govt, NGT orders new probe panel
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In a new development in the ongoing Sterlite case at the National Green Tribunal, the environment court ordered a new committee to probe into charges of pollution by the copper plant in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. The three member committee would be headed by a retired judge, and will have one member each from the Central Pollution Control Board, and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The NGT was hearing a petition filed by Sterlite’s parent company Vedanta against the Tamil Nadu government’s order to shut down the copper smelter. The copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi was shut down by the TN government on May 28, after the TN Pollution Control Board stated that the plant had violated environmental norms and was causing large-scale pollution in the region.

After having rejected Sterlite's request to grant interim stay on Tamil Nadu government’s order to shut down the plant, the NGT on Monday permitted Sterlite to make its arguments on merits.

During the hearing, the Tribunal questioned the Tamil Nadu government about the basis for the closure of the Sterlite plant. At one point, the Tribunal asked for a one-line reply from the state government as to whether there was an environmental threat on account of the Sterlite smelter. "Yes. A firm yes," the state government replied.

What happened in court

According to journalists at the hearing, a joint team of Central Pollution Control Board and Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board inspected the Sterlite plant on August 16 and 17 and submitted their 10-page report to the NGT. The report cites data on alleged pollution by the Vedanta-owned Sterlite. The findings reportedly say that Vedanta dumped around 3.5 lakh tonnes of copper slag along the Uppar river, obstructing the flow of the river.

Interestingly, this had already been mentioned in a March 2017 TNPCB showcause notice to the plant. This has also been submitted in TNPCB's counter affidavit against Sterlite.

Meanwhile, Sterlite said in court that despite the NGT's August 9 order allowing the company to carry out administrative works at the plant, they had not been given access to the administrative block of the smelter.

The state government closure of Sterlite took place days after a massive anti-Sterlite rally where 13 civilians were shot dead by the police. Citing this, Sterlite said that it had nothing to with them. Further, Vedanta stated that the closure of the unit was a knee jerk reaction and a cover up of the shootings.

The Central Pollution Control Board argued that the corrosive nature of the chemicals stored at the plant pose a threat to the surrounding areas, especially since there has been no maintenance work undertaken for a long time.

What the Tribunal said

Apart from ordering the formation of a new committee, the Tribunal on Monday declined the request of the Tamil Nadu government seeking more time to file data on ground water situation.

Further, Vedanta has been ordered to construct a compound wall on all four sides to prevent the copper slag from washing away.

Sterlite meanwhile expressed reservations about picking a retired judge from Tamil Nadu to head the committee, citing bias.

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