Mining company Vedanta has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking permission to reopen its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district for maintenance work, The News Minute reported on Monday.

The Tamil Nadu government had closed the plant after 13 people protesting against its expansion were killed in police firing on May 22, 2018. The government had also alleged that the facility had violated environmental norms.

In its petition, Vedanta has submitted that the plant has been “steeply deteriorating” after it was shut down. It has also claimed that massive corrosion has occurred at the plant “leading to the collapse of the structures and critical assets due to lack of regular maintenance and rain water accumulation”.

The company also stated that there have been acid leakages at the plant in January and March, and that more such instances will cause additional damage. The company said that it had reported the leakages to the Tamil Nadu government, but the government did not take any action on the matter.

Vedanta claimed that a local-level monitoring committee had visited the plant and it “understood the necessity of safety assessment and essential maintenance to ensure safety of the assets and structures”, according to The News Minute.

Legal battle

The Sterlite Copper plant, a unit of Vedanta, was set up in 1996. Activists in Thhoothukudi have alleged that the plant was contaminating the region’s air and water resources, and causing diseases among the local people.

On May 24, 2018, the Tamil Nadu government had shut down the plant. In December 2018, the National Green Tribunal had set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to close the plant. It directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to issue a fresh order of renewal of consent for the smelter within three weeks. The board had refused to do so.

In March 2019, the Madras High Court had declined to grant interim relief to Vedanta to access the copper plant for maintenance and administrative purposes.

The Supreme Court, in December 2020, rejected the company’s petition for immediately reopening the plant for a trial run.