Breather for Vedanta: NGT panel says Sterlite plant closure not justified

Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper got a breather on Wednesday after the National Green Tribunal (NGT)-appointed panel said the closure of the firm’s copper plant in Thoothukudi by the Tamil Nadu government was not justified. The NGT has directed the state to submit its response in a week.

The state government had neither served a notice nor given Sterlite the opportunity to submit its side of the story, said the committee, headed by former Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court Tarun Aggarwal. “The state government may give several reasons for closing down the unit. But the closure is not justified,” it was further said. 
Sterlite Copper Counsel Aryama Sundaram said: “The committee’s reporting is favourable for opening the factory. The report also says the closure of the factory is not justified, and the factory being closed permanently was not correct. No grounds were given for closing the factory.”  The committee has given certain recommendations that are good, including monitoring the groundwater and air regularly. 
The recommendations are for both Sterlite and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). From the beginning, the company’s stand has been that the closure was unjustified and done out of political compulsion. The stand of the firm has been that pollution was not the reason, said Sundaram. 
P Ramnath, CEO of Sterlite Copper, said: “We, as a company, have always been environmentally conscious in every aspect and have followed all regulations. The NGT committee has taken time to follow the due process, independently investigate and hear both sides of the argument. They have finally submitted a report stating the sudden closure of Sterlite Copper is against natural justice. We have consistently been voicing the fact that Sterlite Copper is not a pollutant and the NGT report states the same. We hope the verdict will now be given soon for life to come back to normalcy for the 25,000 families impacted by the closure.” 
Earlier, protests broke out against the Sterlite factory in Thoothukudi after the company announced that its expansion plans resulted in death of over 13 people who had participated in an anti-Sterlite demonstration.
After coming under heavy criticism from various political parties and the locals, the state government ordered permanent closure of the Sterlite’s copper smelter plant.
In the event of the Tribunal allowing the factory to commence production, the committee recommended it should issue directions to the company to remove the dead stock of copper in the dump yard, and that the copper slag dumped in 11 sites, including Uppar River, should be removed. 
The firm should conduct monthly reports after monitoring groundwater quality, including heavy metals, to the TNPCB, said the recommendation report, a copy of which is available with Business Standard.

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