The Madras High Court on Tuesday dismissed Vedanta’s plea challenging the closure of its Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Tuticorin and refused to allow its reopening.
The company, in response, said it would look into available legal remedies “in the pursuit of justice”.
A special bench of Justices T S Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan observed that the chain of events will “clearly reveal that the petitioner has been a chronic defaulter, taking advantage of the slackness on the part of the regulator they have been carrying thus far”.
The HC said the petitioner’s stand that people in the area want them to continue and that downstream industries are waiting for the petitioner to commence operation “deserved to be outrightly rejected after going through the compilation filed by the TNPCB”.
The plant was closed after an order by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) dated May 23, 2018 — a day after 13 anti-pollution protesters were killed in police firing at a massive rally against the factory.
Sterlite Copper CEO Pankaj Kumar on Tuesday issued a statement saying the verdict came “as an utter shock to the employees of Sterlite Copper and the thousands of small businesses, entrepreneurs and community members dependent on our continued operations”.
He stated, “At no point in our operations were any concerns of pollution raised by the appropriate authorities. We will, therefore, be pursuing all available legal remedies in the pursuit of justice over the coming day.”
The case was heard continuously for 42 days before the court reserved its order on January 8.
In February 2019, Vedanta moved a petition in Madras HC, seeking to reopen Sterlite. The company had approached the High Court, as suggested by the Supreme Court. The Tamil Nadu government had assured that it would take responsibility for basic maintenance of the premises.
In the High Court, the state government and TNPCB called Sterlite a “chronic” defaulter and that “unrestrained pollution appears to be standard modus operandi of the company, as it has been found guilty of various violations globally”.
The state government argued that Sterlite couldn’t establish units in states such as Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra, “and having established here (Tamil Nadu) and being guilty of continued pollution and a chronic defaulter, they need to close down and the impugned orders may be sustained”.
Vedanta’s counsels contended that the closure order was nothing but “naked discrimination” against the company, and a knee-jerk reaction of the state to “appease” a section of the public with vested interests after 13 protesters were killed. The company argued that government inspections or surveys did not “disclose any adverse finding to warrant rejection of consent and immediate closure of the petitioner’s unit”.
It also alleged that a Chinese company was behind the closure.
The company argued that closure orders were “passed with a sole aim to divert national attention from the administrative lapse of the State and the local administration in failing to control the law and order situation, with the aim of appeasing the public protests and for political consideration”. It said the closure order was “illegal” and “have been motivated by improper consideration”.
Vedanta also argued that as per TNPCB pollution data, a person living inside Sterlite was safer than one living in Anna Nagar in Chennai.
In his statement on Tuesday, Sterlite CEO Kumar said, “We firmly believe in the safe and environmentally sound nature of our operations and are discouraged by wilful reliance on anecdotal evidence and half-truths by certain parties to spread falsehoods against our operations.”
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