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After a recent portfolio change halted the progress of the hearing in the Sterlite Copper factory case, pending before the Madras High Court, a representation has been made to ensure that the matter is retained by the Bench of Justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan.
A mention of the issue was made today before the Bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Vineet Kothari, who has agreed to look into the same.
In this regard, both the petitioner (Vedanta) and the respondents to the case had earlier submitted a representation to the High Court Registrar on September 3, requesting that the Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan continue hearing the matter since the hearings were on the verge of conclusion.
However, following the portfolio change, the matter was listed before a Bench of Justice Sivagnanam and R Tharani.
The administrative order that had led the fresh listing of the case is said to have been based on the erroneous assumption that only preliminary arguments in the matter had been made before the earlier Bench and that it had not taken up the matter on merits.
On the other hand, in the latest representation dated September 20, the parties have pointed out that the factual position is that the earlier Bench had heard the matter for over 28 days since June 27 this year.
“...arguments and submissions on merits were addressed and argued at length, by the Petitioner as well as by the Respondents for over 28 hearing dates. spread over two calendar months and included submissions by Senior Counsels who came from outside Chennai. The matter is currently at the stage of rejoinder submissions by Petitioner… the matters were listed, almost on a day to day basis and the Petitioner has commenced rejoinder submissions from 27.08.2019 onwards.”, the representation goes on to inform.
The representation further adds,
“… the parties have also filed and relied extensively on several volumes of documents before the Hon’ble Bench, during the course of arguments. While the Petitioner has filed 13 Volumes, Respondent No. 2 has filed 10 Volumes, Impleaded Respondent No. 9 & 10 have together filed 25 Volumes and other Impleaded Respondents have filed 9 Volumes…The Ld. Division Bench hearing the matters has been recording the proceedings for each day when the cases were heard, through a separate daily order. The above position would be evident on a perusal of the said orders by the Registry.”
In view of the same, both sides to the matter have made a joint request for reconsidering their earlier representation to post the batch of cases concerning the closure of the Sterlite copper factory before the Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan.
Vedanta has challenged a series of closure orders passed last year by the TNPCB to shut down its Sterlite Copper plant at Thoothukudi citing environmental violations. The closure came amidst popular protest against the proposed expansion of its plant. These protests took a violent turn when the police opened fire on unarmed civilian protestors in May last year, leading to at least thirteen casualties. The move to shut down the Sterlite plant was also supported by the Tamil Nadu government.
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 come up before the Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and B Nirmal Kumar in March this year. However, a change in roster/portfolio saw the case being taken away from this Bench.
The matter was eventually listed before the Bench of Justices Sivagnanam and Subbaroyan after Justice KK Sasidharan recused from hearing the case since he had passed an order in a connected matter while sitting at the Madurai Bench last year.
[Read the representation dated September 20, 2019]