The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected mining giant Vedanta’s petition for immediately reopening the Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi city for a trial run, Live Law reported.
The firm had approached the Supreme Court for relief after the Madras High Court in August refused to allow it to open the plant.
Vedanta’s counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that the Sterlite plant accounted for 36% of India’s copper requirement. “Its [the plant’s] closure has made us a net importer of copper,” he said. “This huge national wastage can be curbed by allowing the plant to run on an experimental basis.”
Singhvi urged the court to allow it to operate for an experimental run. “Please look at the nature of the grounds for the closure,” he said. “Each of the arguments for the closure can be best judged by observing the functioning of the plant on its reopening. Allowing it to run for 2 to 3 months is the best solution. What is the public interest that I am harming by running my plant on an experimental basis.”
The lawyers for the Tamil Nadu government and the State Pollution Control Board, meanwhile, said that the copper smelting plant had been consistently causing pollution. “The wealth of the country is being destroyed,” they said. “Drinking water is being contaminated. People are suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.”
The health status of hundreds of villagers has been brought on record to show their suffering. “The plant is a chronic defaulter,” they added. The Supreme Court, after hearing the arguments, listed the case for hearing in January.
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 December 2018, the National Green Tribunal had set aside the Tamil Nadu government’s order to close the plant. The state government filed a plea against it, arguing that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter. NGT described the state’s order as “unsustainable”, and 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.
Vedanta had filed a petition seeking the reopening of its facility on February 27, 2019, after the Supreme Court refused to allow the firm to do so. The Supreme Court had, however, said the Tamil Nadu government and Vedanta were free to approach the Madras High Court on the matter.
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.