In a major setback for AIADMK led Tamil Nadu government and various anti-Sterlite groups, National Green Tribunal has labelled closure of copper producing Sterlite Plant as unjustified. This temporary relief is seen as a chance to re-open the closed plant of Sterlite in Thoothukudi district, which had put at stake the livelihoods of more than 30,000 people.
Former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court Tarun Agarwal was heading the NGT constituted the committee. The committee said that Sterlite was not given adequate time to give a response to allegations levied by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. It also observed that closure of plant without serving a notice is against ‘natural justice.’
Senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, who was defending Vedanta Ltd, reportedly said after the NGT report that the closure of Sterlite plant was totally motivated by politics and result of manipulations done by TNPCB. He said that observations noted by NGT and report given, were favourable for Sterlite and it, in other words, mean re-opening of the plant.
Sterlite copper plant, owned by Vedanta ltd. operated in the district of Thoothukudi. It is estimated that the plant impacted the livelihoods of 30,000 families and 800 medium and small industries. Sterlite plant contributed 40% of the copper to overall demands in India. Reports claimed that closure of the plant would lead to an increase in import costs of copper by a staggering 2 billion USD.
After reports of a possible expansion spread, various NGOs and pressure groups accused Sterite of contaminating local environment by producing lethal gas and discharging various harmful waste. They said it leads to an increase in cancer cases, in the region. The Vedanta group has maintained that the plant was operated in strict adherence to all norms and there are no proven data of any toxic reaction.
As protestors clashed with the authorities, police firing had resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians. The protestors were opposing the Sterlite plant. This led to Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K. Palaniswami directing the authorities to close the plant permanently.
Vedanta Ltd. immediately appealed to NGT for interim relief but failed. Hearing by the NGT was postponed till August. The NGT had organised committee meetings first in Thoothukudi than in Chennai. It had reviewed thousands of letters supporting Sterlite and pleading for its re-opening in Thoothukudi.
On October 29, NGT had organised a hearing with Vedanta Ltd. and TNPCB. Sterlite had contested claims of TNPCB and of other NGOs. Both in NGT and Madurai bench of the Madras High court, TNPCB has submitted reports of reduction in poor air quality around the plant, after plant shutdown. Sterlite said that method adopted by Board were flawed and hence incorrect.