In a move that was widely anticipated by legal experts, the Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, has got the green light to reopen from a panel appointed by the NGT, with specific conditions on waste management and monitoring
The Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin, was under fire for polluting the local environment, leading to the deaths of 13 people in police firing on protestors, on May 22 and 23. The deaths led to the state government of Tamil Nadu summarily shutting down the plant, with the state pollution control board also withdrawing its permissions.
However, the move seemed to have been designed to fail, thanks to the basic principles of natural justice, which demand an opportunity for the accused, in this case the Sterlite Plant, to respond to charges. With no notice or a demand for explanation sent to Sterlite, the stage was set, inadvertently or otherwise, for the decision to be challenged with a high probability of the order being set aside, as we seem to be witnessing now. The panel appointed by the NGT, headed by a former Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court, Tarun aggarwal, submitted its report on Tuesday.
Interestingly, an immediate impact of the shut down was felt by Indian industry, with a drop of 55% in copper production for the country in H1 of this year. That’s the April-September period, during which the plant has been completely shut. With Sterlite’s facility accounting for almost 40% f the country’s production, the drop was expected. But the increase in imports, and the rise in prices might have made it a bitter ill to swallow for many. While this should have had no impact on the NGT decision, its a point worth noting for opponents of the plant.
Even as the competence of the AIADMK State government is questioned for the manner of handling the case, for the record, the state counsel has presented reports that claim to show an improvement in air quality after the closure of the plant. Vedanta has contested the report. Similarly, a central government sponsored report on the groundwater contamination in the area was also rejected by the state government , as the report seemed to apportion blame on other industries besides Sterlite too, for the contamination.
For now, the truth remains elusive, even as chances are high that after the next hearing on Dec 7, the plant might actually reopen for production early next year.
While seeming to be positive for Sterlite, the expert committed has recommended some conditions too, not least of which is a monthly check of the groundwater in the presence of SPCB and other state representatives , besides checks on Air Pollution levels, and a d
demand to clear out the slag from multiple sites in the area. These are conditions Sterlite will accept gladly one would imagine, not only because they donot put an unreasonable cost on the firm, but also because of the value of the production at Tuticorin. Parent firm Vedanta’s share price moved up at the stock markets on news of the report, making it clear how the market thinks.