The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to Tamil Nadu government on Vedanta Ltd’s appeal against the Madras High Court’s order disallowing the reopening of the company’s controversial copper smelter in the state’s Thoothukudi.
The Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee refused to grant any interim relief in the matter while issuing notice.
Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper smelter has been shut since May 2018 on the orders of the Tamil Nadu government after escalating protests over the unit’s alleged environmental pollution boiled over into a confrontation between police and protesters. As many as 13 demonstrators had died in police firing.
More than two years after the police firing, no policeman has been charged in what was the deadliest environmental protest in India in nearly a decade.
No interim relief was granted by the top court on Monday and Vedanta’s counsels have been asked to argue for a stay of the high court’s order in the next hearing. The case will likely be listed after four weeks.
Vedanta had moved the apex court on 26 August challenging Madras HC’s order.
In an 815-page judgment delivered on 18 August, justices T.S. Sivgnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan of the Madras high court had observed that the unit had violated environmental laws.
The case was argued for 42 days in the court beginning in December and the judgment reserved on 8 January before a division bench of Madras high court dismissed the 10 writ petitions filed by Vedanta against orders passed by the state government and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board against the smelter under which they refused the company permission to reopen the unit or engage in production, disconnected electricity supplies, and sealed the premises.
The high court had also rejected Vedanta’s argument that the closure was triggered by the May 2018 incident.
Vedanta had submitted that it had spent substantial funds on environmental improvement.
However, the high court observed that this showed that Vedanta is a highly polluting industry and that measures are required to enable it to be termed a “viable unit.”
Vedanta has consistently denied accusations causing pollution. The high court order had also said that the Sterlite plant suffers from “zonal disqualification as there is no material to indicate that there was a special industrial and hazardous use zone in the area”, in accordance with the master plan of Thoothukudi, in Meelavittan Village. Hence, the location of the plant itself was erroneous.
The Sterlite Copper unit had accounted for more than a third of India’s refined copper output before it was shut.