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The Madras High Court Bench of Justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan today reserved orders in the plea filed by Vedanta challenging the closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi.
The petition was moved in February last year, after the Supreme Court granted Vedanta liberty to move the High Court in this regard.
Vedanta’s Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi was shut down by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) in 2018, 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.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court set aside a December 2018 NGT order that had allowed the reopening of the Sterlite plant. However, the order was set aside on the ground that the NGT did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the case. Therefore, Vedanta was allowed to move the High Court against the orders passed against it, leading to the present plea.
The plea had initially come up before the Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and B Nirmal Kumar in March 2019. However, a change in roster/portfolio saw the case being taken away from this Bench.
Thereafter, it came up briefly before the Bench Justices KK 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 in 2018
The case was eventually listed before the Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan, which commenced hearing arguments in the case on June 27, last year. However, following the portfolio change, the matter was listed before a Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and R Tharani.
This led the parties to request the then Acting Chief Justice Vineet Kothari to ensure that the matter is retained by the Bench of Justices Sivagnananm and Subbaroyan.
The parties told Justice Kothari that the administrative order signed off by former Chief Justice VK Tahilramani, before her unexpected resignation, was based on the erroneous assumption that the earlier Bench had only heard preliminary arguments in the matter. On the other hand, it was informed that, prior to the latest portfolio change, arguments had been on the verge of conclusion.
About three months later, the Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan began hearing the Sterlite case again on December 16, 2019. Arguments by Vedanta concluded in December before the winter break. The State and intervenors in the matter, including local residents from Thoothukudi, made their arguments this week.
Following the conclusion of arguments, orders were finally reserved in the matter on January 8, Wednesday.