April 28, 2021 3:57:43 am
THE Supreme Court Tuesday allowed Vedanta Ltd to operationalise the oxygen plant at its sterlite copper smelting facility in Thoothukkudi in Tamil Nadu to manufacture medical oxygen, with the order standing till at least July 31.
Allowing the company “to operate the oxygen plant as a standalone unit”, a Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat clarified that “the order is passed only in view of the national need for oxygen” and “will not create any equities in favour of Vedanta”.
On a request that the oxygen produced at the plant must be given to the state, Justice Chandrachud said, “… (the) nation stands together in this moment. At present, Tamil Nadu’s oxygen demands are met. In case of any future need, they (state) can approach us for changes.”
While Tamil Nadu had earlier opposed opening of the plant due to local concerns regarding environmental violations, at the start of the hearing on Tuesday, the state government said an all-party meeting had decided to allow it to produce oxygen in national interest.
The Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to form an oversight committee, including district and police officials as well as the District Environmental Engineer, to hold talks with members of the local community. The Ministry of Environment and Forests will form a separate panel, to which the villagers can nominate members.
Vedanta, the Bench stressed, cannot operate the copper smelting plant under the garb of the order, and would have to get names of the staff essential to run the plant cleared by the committee. Tamil Nadu also sought an assurance that Vedanta would only operate the oxygen plant. Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Vedanta, said the firm would ensure this.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said whatever medical oxygen is produced by Vedanta should be given to the Centre. “The oxygen will be given to the Central pool. Because there are very few oxygen generating states”, said Mehta.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves appearing for the families of some of those affected by alleged pollution due to the plant submitted that Vedanta had raised a demand that 250 employees be allowed to enter, and said this was apparently to carry out maintenance of the plant.
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