The National Green Tribunal on Saturday set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to shut down Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, ANI reported. The green tribunal directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to issue a fresh order of renewal of consent for the smelter within three weeks.
A bench headed by National Green Tribunal chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led government’s order was “unjustifiable”, The Hindu reported. “The appellant [Vedanta] will also be entitled to restoration of electricity for its operations,” the court said.
The Tamil Nadu government has said that it will challenge the order in the Supreme Court, the Hindustan Times reported. “Our stand is clear: we do not want this smelter to reopen,” Environment Minister KC Karuppannan said.
Thirteen people agitating against the expansion of the copper smelter were killed on May 22 and May 23, prompting the state government to permanently shut down the plant days later. Several people were arrested for rioting, burning vehicles in the premises of the collectorate, pelting stones and damaging public property.
The tribunal also ordered the company to set aside Rs 100 crore to be spent for local welfare projects over the course of three years.
On October 29, the Tamil Nadu government had told the National Green Tribunal, which is hearing a petition filed by Vedanta to reopen the plant, that the air quality in Thoothukudi has improved since it was shut down in May.
On November 28, a three-member panel formed to look into the closure of the Sterlite copper plant said that the state’s decision to shut down the plant is “not sustainable”. Justice Tarun Agarwal, the chairperson of the panel, said the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government’s decision was against the principles of natural justice. On November 27, the panel had submitted its report on the closure of the plant to the National Green Tribunal.
However, the committee asked Vedanta, the firm which owns the plant, to set rules for how waste management is to be carried out. It also asked the Central Pollution Control Board to ensure that Vedanta complies with pollution norms.
For two decades, activists and residents have protested against the plant – set up in 1996 – and have claimed that it contaminated the air and water in the region and caused health problems. The Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement have alleged that the three-member committee’s report made no mention of any findings on pollution, hazardous waste mismanagement and other legal violations by Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-headquartered metals and mining firm Vedanta Resources.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on December 7 refused to stay the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into the Tamil Nadu Police’s decision to fire at protestors in May.