The National Green Tribunal (NGT), has turned down the Tamil Nadu government’s order to shut down the Vedanta copper plant in Thoothkudi, Tamil Nadu.
NGT has also asked the state pollution control board to renew the license, Consent to Operate, and abolish other obstacles subject to certain fulfillment of conditions, within three weeks from now.
The National Green Tribunal stated in its judgement dated December 15, “Accordingly, we allow this appeal, set aside the impugned orders and direct the TNPCB to pass fresh order of renewal of consent and authorization to handle hazardous substances, in the light of above finding, subject to appropriate conditions for protection of environment in accordance with law within three weeks from today.”
The state was also ordered to restore power supply to the factory. The TNPCB had suspended the power supply on May 23, after it claimed to have found the factory to be active during the time when the Sterlite Copper plant did not have a license to run the unit.
This order by NGT is the result of a legal row which was going on for over 6 months. “If anything was still required to be done in that regard by the appellant [Sterlite Copper], this could not be a ground for rejecting consent for renewal or for closing the unit without opportunity of hearing to the appellant. Even if there is a technical breach as contended on behalf of the respondents, the breach is trivial in nature causing no prejudice to anyone.” NGT wrote in its order.
Sterlite Copper is also asked to take a series of steps to safeguard the environment on precautionary principles. The court has directed the factory to spend ₹2.5 crores for its faulty handling of 3.5 Lakhs tonnes of copper slag near the factory and also to form a digital portal to register complaints of its operations.
The copper plant was shut down in 2013 amid complaints of harming the environment, but it was reopened later after the SC directed Sterlite to spend ₹100 crores for the environment. NGT has also directed the company to implement its promise of spending another ₹100 crores for the environment.