Vedanta group firm Sterlite Wednesday moved the Madras High Court seeking a direction to allow the reopening of its copper smelter unit at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu which was closed last year over pollution concerns.
Filing a petition in line with the Supreme Court’s recent suggestion, it challenged the May 23, 2018 orders of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) refusing renewal of consent to the plant as well as permanent closure, terming them as wholly illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires.
The matter is likely to be taken up for hearing on Thursday.
The apex court had on February 18 set aside the order of the National Green Tribunal allowing opening of the copper unit, but gave the liberty to the company to approach the high court against the closure order.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha had said if such a writ petition was filed by the company, it could seek an interim relief considering the fact that their plant at Tuticorin had been shut down since April 9, 2018.
The state government had ordered permanent closure of the unit in the wake of violent protests against Sterlite in Tuticorin that led to the killing of 13 people in police firing on May 22.
The locals were protesting against environmental pollution allegedly caused by the factory.
Allowing a plea by Sterlite, the NGT had on December 15 last year set aside the closure order, holding that it was “non-sustainable” and “unjustified”.
The apex court delivered the verdict on Tamil Nadu’s appeal against the NGT’s order, saying that the tribunal had “erroneously” set aside various orders passed by the TNPCB.
In its petition in the high court, the company contended that TNPCB had blindly and without any independent application of mind passed the closure orders in a knee jerk manner in response to the political situation brewing in the area and according to the whims of the state government.
The orders were “wholly illegal, unconstitutional, ultra vires the Air and Water Act”, it claimed.
Besides being “unsustainable” in the facts and circumstances of the case, the orders were also liable to be quashed on the grounds of violations of principles of natural justice apart from being vitiated by reliance on extraneous considerations, it added.
The order had been made as per TNPCB’s convenience for stopping the operation of Sterlite with complete non-application of mind, the company said in its affidavit.
It also contended that the closure order issued on the ground that the unit was carrying out activities to resume its production operation was bad in law.
Citing the shutdown of certain machineries as part of maintenance activities in progress at that time, the company said production operation was not feasible without them.
Sterlite also submitted that closure of an industry was a measure of last resort in the absence of any other alternative and that the TNPCB, being a statutory public authority, was expected to consider all balancing factors before passing such a drastic order for permanent closure.
The order was passed pursuant to a media publication by one of the NGOs “operating against” the company without any deliberation or discussions within departments concerned, and without even issuing notice to the company, it said.
The company also claimed it had 36 per cent share in the total domestic market for copper besides exporting and hence, the closure would result in a loss of foreign exchange earnings of USD 1.5 billion per annum.