The south bench of the National Green Tribunal ordered the constitution of a two-member expert committee to inspect Sterlite Industriess controversial copper plant in Tuticorin,which was closed as per the orders of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) after the public complained of gas leak from the plant on March 23.
The committee will oversee the calibration process at the plant and test the sulphur dioxide emissions to determine if it exceeded the permissible limits. During this inspection,it will be assisted by an official each from Sterlite and the TNPCB. The committee will also test the efficiency of the monitoring equipment,which had come under doubt during the gas leak.
The bench comprising judicial member M Chockalingam and expert member R Nagendran said it would name the experts on April 18. The report is to be submitted by April 29,when the case will be heard again.
Sterlite had approached the tribunal seeking an interim stay of the closure order issued by TNPCB,denying any connection with the incident. Senior counsels appearing for the company contended that the plant was under maintenance shut down at the time of the gas leak. The plant had only run a calibration process,which according to them,could not have cause the alleged impact.
There were other industrial units in the vicinity,including those emitting gaseous sulphur,they argued,pointing out that the inspection team set up by the district collector a day after the incident was ordered to test emission levels at a number of other units in the same SIPCOT industrial belt. But MDMK general secretary Vaiko,presenting the case himself,and the counsel representing Fatima Babu,an activist from Tuticorin contested this claim by citing health and ecological hazards posed by the plant,backed by lawyers representing TNPCB and the district collector.
The board cited 84 instances of excess emission from the plant since October,which prompted the tribunal to question why not even a showcause notice was served on the company for those violations. The district collector,too,came under criticism for first declaring that there was no gas leak even before receiving the inspection report,and then stating to the media that the plant will not be allowed to run while the matter was sub judice before the green bench.
Though Sterlite argued that the collector had stated there were no admissions at any hospital following the leak,seven doctors from the district filed supporting affidavits stating that they treated several persons for the symptoms of gas poisoning.