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The Supreme Court has set aside the National Green Tribunal’s order which had allowed the reopening of the Vedanta Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi.
The Court allowed the appeal on grounds of maintainability and has said that Vedanta is free to file a writ petition before the Madras High Court. The judgment states,
“Given the fact that we are setting aside the NGT judgments involved in these appeals on the ground of maintainability, we state that it will be open for the respondents to file a writ petition in the High Court against all the aforesaid orders. If such writ petition is filed, it will be open for the respondent to apply for interim reliefs considering that their plant has been shut down since 09.04.2018.”
The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha. This Bench was hearing the challenge to the National Green Tribunal’s order of December 2018 that had given the green signal for the reopening of the plant. However, while setting aside the NGT order, the Court has also given the Company the liberty to apply before the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court for an expeditious hearing since the plant has remained shut for a long period of time.
“[S]ince their plant has been so shut down for a long period, and they are exporting a product which is an important import substitute, the respondent may apply to the Chief Justice of the High Court for expeditious hearing of the writ petition, which wwll be disposed of on merits notwithstanding the availability of an alternative remedy in the case of challenge to the 09.04.2018 order of the TNPCB.”
Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) was shut down by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), citing violation 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 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.
During the hearings, the Court had expressed an inclination towards passing orders allowing the plant to be reopened. However, the Court decided to give a detailed hearing to all parties before passing any orders.
Senior Advocates CS Vaidyanathan, KV Viswanathan, Guru Krishnakumar and Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan appeared for the State of Tamil Nadu and Pollution Control Board.
Senior Advocate CA Sundaram represented Sterlite.
Read the Judgment: