The Supreme Court on Thursday deferred the hearing of a petition filed by Vedanta Group seeking the reopening of its Sterlite copper smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi city. Before postponing the hearing to January 29, the bench indicated to the Tamil Nadu government that it must supply power to the plant, but refrained from passing any orders to the effect, PTI reported.

The state government had decided to shut down the smelter days after 13 people protesting against its expansion were killed on May 22 and May 23. The protestors claimed that pollution from the plant was endangering their health.

The Tamil Nadu government and political leader Vaiko opposed Vedanta’s plea that it be allowed to reopen the plant, contending that the company had not complied with pollution norms. Vaiko had filed a public interest litigation on April 26 asking the court to direct the Centre and state government to deny environmental clearances to the plant.

However, Vedanta’s advocate CA Sundaram said that the National Green Tribunal had allowed the Sterlite plant to resume operations if it complied with its conditions, and that the state government was placing hurdles in its path. He said that the plant had been denied power supply but that the green tribunal’s conditions could be complied with only if there was electricity to operate.

The bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman then indicated it may pass an interim order directing the state government to open the plant and supply electricity. However, the court deferred the plea for hearing on January 29, along with the appeal filed by the Tamil Nadu government against the December 15 green tribunal order.

In December, the National Green Tribunal had set aside the government’s order, calling it unsustainable. The state government filed a plea against this decision, arguing that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter. However, the Supreme Court, earlier this month, refused to stay the order.

The Supreme Court had also set aside the Madras High Court’s order restraining Vedanta from reopening the plant. The Madurai branch of the High Court had said that the plant would remain closed until January 21.