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Justice KK Sasidharan of the Madras High Court today recused from hearing the plea filed by Vedanta to reopen its Sterlite copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi.
The matter was listed today before a Bench of Justices Sasidharan and PT Asha. However, Justice Sasidharan recused from hearing the case since he had passed an order in a connected matter while sitting at the Madurai Bench. Last year, while sitting with Justice PD Audikesavalu, Justice Sasidharan had passed an interim order restraining Vedanta from reopening the Sterlite plant.
The matter was mentioned today before Chief Justice VK Tahilramani so that it may be listed tomorrow before another Bench. The Chief Justice informed that such an order could not be passed in open Court. However, she said that an order will be passed on the administrative side today so that it may be listed before another Bench.
The matter has now been posted before the Bench of Justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan.
Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi was shut down by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) last year, citing violations of environmental laws. The closure order was passed immediately after the plant had turned into a protest site, with citizens opposing the expansion of the plant. The order was supported by the State government, which endorsed the same within a week.
The protest took a violent turn on its hundredth day when police opened fire on the protesters, leading to several civilian casualties.
Vedanta subsequently challenged the closure order before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which ruled in the company’s favour. This order was challenged by the TNPCB before the Supreme Court in January 2019, when the Court stated that the NGT order of reopening of the plant will continue to operate during the pendency of the appeal.
In February this year, the Supreme Court set aside the NGT order allowing the reopening of the Sterlite plant, on the ground that the NGT did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the case. However, Vedanta was allowed to move the High Court against the orders passed against it.
Accordingly, Vedanta moved a plea before the High Court challenging the orders passed by the TNPCB leading up to the closure of its Thoothukudi Sterlite plant.
The plea had initially been posted before the Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and Nirmal Kumar. However, the case was listed before a new Bench following a change in the roster.