The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that pollutants from the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi have entered the groundwater and the nearby Uppar river. The board told the top court that the groundwater contains total dissolved solids 20 to 40 times the permissible limit, The Hindu reported.

Senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan, representing the board, told the court that violation of environmental pollution norms has become common. “The question now being asked by certain sections of industry is why are we extracting just 3% of our mineral resources,” he added.

The court was hearing an appeal by the Tamil Nadu government, which contended that the National Green Tribunal failed to consider all data, documents and evidence before directing the pollution control board to renew the consent granted to Vedanta Group, the firm which owns the Sterlite plant, to handle hazardous substances. The state said that Vedanta does not comply with pollution norms.

Vaidyanathan also questioned the authority of the National Green Tribunal to constitute a committee headed by former High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agarwala to hear Vedanta’s plea against the shutting down of its Thoothukudi copper plant. “Adjudicatory powers [of the green court] cannot be delegated,” he said. The lawyer said it is up to Vedanta to prove that the plant is not the source of pollution.

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. 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.

Madras HC summons police officer in anti-Sterlite protests case

Meanwhile, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday summoned Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police Murali Rambha in connection with a public interest litigation, which alleged that the police keep cracking down on those who have participated in anti-Sterlite protests, The Hindu reported.

Petitioner S Mohan of the People’s Watch Organisation alleged that the police recently subjected Santhosh Raj, a key witness in the Thoothukudi firing case, to custodial torture. No case was registered against Raj before he was picked up, Mohan claimed, adding that a false case has now been filed against him. The petitioner said the police threatened Raj with grave consequences if he continued to participate in anti-Sterlite protests, and did not even allow him to intimate his family about his arrest.

The police has also cracked down on other activists, like Prince Cardoza and advocate Hari Raghavan, the petitioner alleged. S Mohan demanded compensation for the “physical and mental stress” Raj suffered, and asked for a direction to the District Legal Services Authority to appoint advocates in police stations in Tamil Nadu.