Refusing any stay on proceedings as sought by the Tamil Nadu government, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the National Green Tribunal to consider the Tamil Nadu’s stand on maintainability and merit of the Vedanta petition challenging closure of its factory in Tuticorin.
A bench led by Justice R F Nariman said that ‘it is open to the state government to argue on maintainability after which the tribunal will give a finding on both maintainability and merit’. The matter is listed before NGT on August 20.
The order came on an appeal by the Tamil Nadu government challenging the NGT’s August 9 order allowing mining major Vedanta to enter the administrative unit inside its Sterlite copper plant. The state government had, on May 28, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and ‘permanently’ close the copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.
The state government via senior counsel Shekhar Naphde told the SC that the tribunal had failed to note that its jurisdiction 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 government under Article 48-A of the Constitution of India coupled with Section 18 (1) (b) of the Water Act, 1974.
The state government further said that its closure order was a ‘policy decision’ and was issued after a massive upheaval against the factory for causing environmental damage.
Vedanta opposed saying no notice was given to it before passing closure orders.
“Eleven industries are operating within the area where Vedanta’s factory is situated, but no action is being taken against them… we are caught in the political storm. The government did not issue any order on its own but gave instructions to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to seal the factory.”
While granting relief to Vedanta, the NGT had observed that no environmental damage would be caused by allowing access to the administrative block in the factory in Thoothukudi, but had refused the firm to have access to its production unit. It had also asked the district magistrate to ensure it, besides directing the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board to submit an analysis of the baseline pollution data of the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu in Tuticorin to ascertain the level of pollution.