NGT-appointed panel says Sterlite can operate in Thoothukudi

Chennai: The National Green Tribunal (NGT)-appointed committee, led by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal, today, in its hearing, dismissed the State government’s ruling to permanently shut Vedanta’s copper smelter unit, Sterlite, and ordered continuation of operation of the facility at Thoothukudi.

The tribunal also ordered the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to grant a new consent order and authorisation to handle harmful substances within a span of three weeks. The bench issued a direction to the company to spend Rs 1 crore within three years for the welfare of residents in the area. The plant’s counsel, during the proceeding, stated that the amount may be spent on projects like water supply, hospital, health services and skill development.

“We allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the TNPCB to pass a fresh order of renewal of consent and authorisation to handle hazardous substances… within three weeks from today,” the National Green Tribunal said in the order.

The notification comes months after the State government issued a permanent closure of the smelter plant over the violent protests against the pollution the plant caused, in May. During the incident, the police opened fire and killed 13 protesters.

An expert panel constituted by NGT in November stated that the State government officials failed to adhere to procedures before ordering the closure of the smelter plant.

Following this, State Environment Minister Karuppannan said Tamilnadu would appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court. “Our stand is clear: we do not want this smelter to reopen,” said Karuppannan after the court order.

Power to the unit was disconnected when the plant was closed in May this year. However, the panel directed the State to restore the connection if it followed conditions like protection of environment under law.

The order stated by NGT is considered to be a setback for local residents, environmentalists opine. They further alleged that the copper plant was polluting groundwater resources.

NT Bureau