Madras High Court refuses to allow re-opening of Sterlite Copper smelter

Written By: Sidharth MP WION
CHENNAI Published: Aug 18, 2020, 01:26 PM(IST)

File photo of Sterlite Industries Ltd's copper plant, a unit of London-based Vedanta Resources, in Tuticorin, in Tamil Nadu. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Sterlite's copper smelter, which is the largest in the country was ordered shut by the Tamil Nadu Government on 28th May 2018.

Justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan of the Madras High Court refused to allow the re-opening of Vedanta-owned, Sterlite Copper Smelter plant, in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin. The Court dismissed all the petitions filed by Sterlite, which challenged the Tamil Nadu Government’s and the State Pollution control board’s orders, that asked for the plant to be shut for violating environmental norms. 

Sterlite's copper smelter, which is the largest in the country was ordered shut by the Tamil Nadu Government on 28th May 2018. Protests had also been taking place in Tuticorin for nearly 100-days against the Sterlite-plant and its operation. On May 22nd 2018, the protests turned violent and Police firings on those who protested against the plant led to 13 deaths, causing severe backlash across the state. The violent protests that were carried out by anti-Sterlite protestors saw the damaging of public property and vehicles. The Tamil Nadu state Pollution control board had earlier rejected the plant’s application for renewal of Consent to Operate, in April 2018, stating that the plant had violated environmental laws. 

Vedanta had taken legal recourse to ensure the re-opening of the plant and partially succeeded when the National green tribunal ruled in favour of the plant. However, the Supreme Court, set aside the NGT order on the grounds that they (NGT) did not have jurisdiction over the issue. 

However, the Supreme Court allowed the company to approach the Madras High Court, before which the company’s lawyers filed nearly 10 writ petitions. The hearing of this case is said to have gone on for over 40 days and the verdict was ready by around March 2020, but it had to be deferred owing to the lockdown and the related delays that ensued. 

The judges pointed out that at least 70 percent of the 815 page order (which would be released later in the afternoon) had been dictated over telephone or mobile phone given the current scenario that only permits remote working. It was also added that the lawyers had wound up their arguments by January 8th this year and that the final verdict and orders had taken shape by March. 

Political reactions from across the spectrum in Tamil Nadu, hailed it as “justice for the victims of the firing”. 

On the other hand, it is said that thousands of employees (direct and indirect) have been unemployed following the factory being ordered shut. Reports also state that the closure has led to India becoming a net importer of copper, given that the Sterlite Tuticorin smelter alone contributed to 40% of India’s copper requirement. 

Sterlite Copper said the verdict came as an utter shock to the employees of Sterlite Copper and thousands of other small businesses that were dependent on the copper smelter’s operations. The company added that they would be pursuing all available legal remedies in the coming days. 

“It is disheartening to note that at a time when our nation is forced to depend on hostile neighbors for copper imports, certain forces are conspiring to stifle our nation’s ability to be an independent copper manufacturer” Pankaj Kumar, CEO, Sterlite Copper said in a statement, that denied the allegations against the plant as false-truths.

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