The Supreme Court on Thursday indicated its intention to order the Tamil Nadu government to restore electricity to the Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi, but finally desisted from passing any interim order in the case.
Vedanta lawyer and senior advocate C.A. Sundaram complained to a Bench of Justices Nariman and Navin Sinha that the State and its authorities had placed several roadblocks in the way of his client, who had won his case before the National Green Tribunal and wanted to reopen the plant.
The tribunal had allowed Vedanta to resume operations provided they follow certain environmental stipulations/conditions.
“But what is your immediate grievance?” Justice Nariman asked Mr. Sundaram.
“I have no electricity. It will take me 60 days to start production. The state of the plant is shocking. I can only comply to their conditions if they give me electricity to operate,” Mr. Sundaram replied.
Vedanta seeks access to plant
Vedanta has filed an application that the plant continues to remain shut despite the NGT order. It has sought access to the plant. “They keep it locked. I can only comply with their conditions if I start my operations,” Mr. Sundaram argued.
At this, Justice Nariman turned to senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, for Tamil Nadu government, asking him “how will they [Vedanta] comply without electricity and without the plant starting operations”.
A visibly annoyed Justice Nariman then orally conveyed the Bench’s intention to pass an interim order “now”. He then orally gave an outline to the government as to what the proposed order would be.
“First, the District Collector, with police help, will put out everything back in place at the Sterlite plant, then electricity will be provided immediately. Finally, liberty to be given to Vedanta to begin operations provided every single condition is met,” Justice Nariman observed.
However, no formal order was passed when the Bench broke for lunch.
Application a “disguise”
Post lunch, senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan led the arguments for the Bench. He said the Vedanta application seeking access to the plant was a “disguise”. “The impression given is all is locked and shut at the plant site. There are 250 people inside. The application is a clever ruse to do away with the conditions,” he countered.
Tamil Nadu politician and MDMK party leader Vaiko appeared in person and submitted that he represented the ordinary people who have suffered from the effects of the copper plant. “Blood has been spilled on the streets,” he said.
Justice Nariman said Mr. Vaiko could address the court when the appeal was heard in detail.
Finally, Justice Nariman said the court was not passing any interim orders and posted the State’s appeal on Tuesday.
On January 8, the court refused to stay the decision of the NGT to process the reopening of the plant, which was ordered to be closed down due to environmental pollution.
Notice on govt appeal
The court issued notice on the Tamil Nadu government’s appeal contending that the tribunal failed to consider the entire gamut of data, documents and evidence before directing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass fresh orders of renewal of consent and issue authorisation to Vedanta Limited to handle hazardous substances.
The State argued that the tribunal went outside the four walls of the statute governing its functions to appoint a committee led by former High Court Chief Justice Tarun Aggarwala to prepare a report in the case. It said the NGT was not a constitutional court like the Supreme Court to employ unbridled powers to constitute a committee like that.
The State contended that Vedanta had not been complying with pollution norms, and the situation had severely deteriorated since 1996.
Mr. Sundaram vehemently denied this allegation on January 24.
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