TN parties urge NGT panel to endorse Sterlite’s closure

Chennai: Tamilnadu parties, including the main opposition DMK, and also an anti-Sterlite body Friday urged a panel set up by the National Green Tribunal to recommend endorsing the state’s closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin.

At the sitting of the panel here, headed by former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court Tarun Agrawal, DMK’s R S Bharathi in a representation submitted that Vedanta’s appeal before the NGT against the closure should be recommended to be dismissed.

The 9 April orders of the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), rejecting consent for renewal of the plant and the 24 May order, disconnecting power supply, should be recommended to be “valid and final,” Bharathi, an advocate and Rajya Sabha MP submitted.

Listing out arguments against the plant, including those on environment related points, the opposition party said the unit’s operation involved alleged emission of sulphur dioxide along with other toxic gases. “…such harmful and poisonous gases were often and repeatedly let out causing damage” to the environment, DMK alleged.

On 24 September, the panel heard Sterlite’s arguments against its closure and allotted 5 and 6 October for those against the unit. MDMK chief Vaiko submitted before the committee that it should make a recommendation, endorsing the permanent closure of the plant by Tamilnadu.

Speaking to reporters, he claimed that about four lakh petitions of the people, various bodies, traders associations and political parties against the plant has been submitted. Among those who submitted petitions against the Sterlite were the ‘Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement’ (about 1.7 lakh petitions), the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam and Naam Thamizhar Katchi (about a lakh each), according to an anti-Sterlite people’s movement spokesperson.

Sterlite, during the last sitting, had claimed that “about 45,000 petitions in favour of reopening the plant was submitted by villagers, contractors, workmen, and vendors,” to the panel. Counsel for Makkal Adhikaran, an ultra Left outfit, in their petition, alleged that the Sterlite plant was responsible for environmental pollution by dumping toxic arsenic waste.

The spokesperson for the Anti Sterlite People’s Movement, which staged a protest for over 100 days in Tuticorin against the plant, told reporters that the panel was told that people were affected by diseases related to lungs, skin and even cancer due to the plant’s operations.

“A complete medical study on the ill effects of Sterlite has not been conducted after a study by a government medical college team in 2008…only by holding a medical study in association with the government can the truth be brought out that people’s health was impaired by Sterlite,” he said.

The plant also disposed waste which had “hazardous elements” that contaminated the environment, he alleged. Documents of water contamination and its deterioration inside and outside the Sterlite plant since 1996 were submitted, according to the spokesperson.

Comparisons were made based on the TNPCB and other baseline data of other agencies to buttress the claims of environment pollution. Violations of hazardous waste rules allegedly by Sterlite was also highlighted. Before ending the day’s sitting, the panel also heard Sterlite’s submissions.

The hearing will continue Saturday. In May following violence and the deaths of 13 people in police firing in protest against the plant over environmental concerns, the state government ordered the closure of Sterlite plant. Later the company went on appeal against it before the NGT and the Supreme Court as well.

On 10 September, the Supreme Court asked NGT to decide on the merits and maintainability of the issue raised by the Tamilnadu government on Vedanta’s plea, challenging the closure of its plant.