The National Green Tribunal on Friday appointed former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal the head of a three-member panel to decide if Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district should be allowed to reopen, PTI reported. The development follows former Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice SJ Vazifdar’s decision to turn down a proposal to head the committee citing personal reasons.
The tribunal’s chairperson, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, said the committee has six weeks to decide on the matter. “Pending the finalisation of remuneration by the Tamil Nadu chief secretary, the Central Pollution Control Board will provide immediate logistic support and organise the visit of Justice Tarun Agrawal and other members to the site or to the venue of the hearing,” the bench said.
The bench said the firm could point out non-compliance of the order, if any, to the committee.
On May 28, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami ordered that the plant be permanently closed days after 13 people were killed in police firing during protests. In July, Vedanta moved the tribunal, challenging the state government’s order.
The company called the closure order and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s refusal to renew its licence impugned and unlawful. It asked the principal bench of the tribunal to issue an interim stay so that the plant could continue operations pending appeal.
On August 14, the Madras High Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct an inquiry into the police’s decision to fire at protestors.
For more than two decades, activists in Thoothukudi accused Sterlite of contaminating the region’s air and water resources and causing breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer. From February, there were large-scale protests against the company’s copper smelter, which had the capacity to produce 4.38 lakh tonnes of anodes per annum, or 1,200 tonnes per day.