Executives belonging to a public relations company working for mining and metals giant Vedanta may have had access to a draft of the National Green Tribunal’s judgement on the conglomerate’s Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi even before the document was made public on Saturday, environmental activists have alleged.
The company has denied the allegations.
The National Green Tribunal on Saturday ordered the Sterlite smelter to be reopened subject to it fulfilling certain directives, following recommendations of a committee. In May, the Tamil Nadu government had ordered the smelter to be closed, days after 13 people were killed when the police opened fire on Thoothukudi residents who were demanding that they plant be shut. They claimed it was a health hazard. The company had challenged the state government’s decision in the tribunal.
Nityanand Jayaraman, an environment activist in Chennai who has been associated with the protests against the copper smelter since 2003, alleged that a document titled “Final Order of VEDANTA DRAFT ORDER-15.12.2018.docx” was circulated by journalists on Saturday afternoon.
An analysis of the digital origins of this file allegedly showed that it was created by an author called “NGT PA” at 7.39 am on Saturday and was “instantly modified” by a person called Aabhas Pandya, Jayaraman claimed.
A press release from the activist said that Aabhas Pandya is the name of a Senior Group Head at Adfactors PR, which does public relations work for Vedanta.
D Hariparanthaman, a former Madras High Court judge who was quoted in the press release, said if the company had access to the judgement before its official release, this would amount to a serious breach of the judicial process.
Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement member Fatima said that she filed a complaint with the Delhi Police on Monday seeking an investigation into the matter. In the complaint, Fatima requested the Delhi Police to verify the “source of the leakage of the confidential document” and also whether other third parties associated with Vedanta had access to it. “This investigation is important to unearth if judicial independence has been interfered with,” the complaint said.
Bhushan Bahal, the legal advisor to Adfactors PR, said that no illegality had been committed by Aabhas Pandya or any other team member working on the Vedanta mandate. “We further add that we have not shared any draft judgement with anyone at any time,” he said.