SC directs NGT to consider maintainability of Sterlite case against closure

CHENNAI: The Supreme court has directed the National Green Tribunal to reconsider Tamil Nadu Government’s petition challenging maintainability and merit of Vedanta Ltd’s case filed with the NGT challenging the state government’s order permanently closing the factory in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

The apex court, however, did not grant a stay on the proceedings of the case at the NGT challenging closure, which was sought by the Tamil Nadu Government.

Tamil Nadu’s Counsel in the Supreme Court Yogesh Khanna’s told ET: “The case is set to come up for hearing at the NGT on August 20 (Monday.) The NGT has been directed to clarify on Maintainability and Merit on that date.”

A state government official told ET, on conditions of anonymity, that the state will the apex court again should the NGT decide that the case was “maintainable.”

Over a month after closure of the factory, Vedanta had moved the Tribunal seeking relief. Besides challenging the closure order, the company had sought interim relief by way of granting access to the administrative block, server room and so on. Recently, the Green Tribunal had granted the access, on the condition that the Thoothukudi District Magistrate ensures the factory does not resume production related activity.

After the interim relief to Sterlite Copper, The Tamil Nadu Government moved the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the proceedings at the NGT on grounds that petition was not maintainable.

In its petition, state government said: “Because the Hon’ble NGT failed to note that its jurisdicition to entertain an original petition or appeal under Section 14 and Section 16 of the NGT Act 2010 respectively only pertains to civil disputes relating to Environment and not a policy decision taken by the State of Tamil Nadu under Article 48-A of the Constitution of India coupled with Section 18 (1) (b) of the Water Act, 1974.”

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The Tamil Nadu government had maintained that it’s closure order of the factory in the wake of a massive upheaval against the factory was, in fact, a “policy decision.”

In the wake of a massive protests on May 22 this year – thirteen people died after the police opened fire- the Tamil Nadu government issued a government order closing the factory. The Sterlite Copper factory, owned by Vedanta Ltd, has been battling local protests on the grounds that the continued operations of the 4 lakh-tonnes-a-year copper smelter has resulted in adverse environmental implications.

Earlier. Vedanta had said abrupt closure in end-May had put the plant on the verge of a catastrophic disaster due to dangerous chemicals still in the factory. The factory, under the supervision of district officials, had engaged in removing the substances from the factory.

Vedanta, meanwhile, has begun an outreach programme in Thoothukudi to win the trust of the local population. The company’s representatives have begun to go into the villages to speak to people about the economic and social benefits of having the plant in operation.


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