The Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu | Photo: PTI
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) remitted on Monday mining company Vedanta's plea, challenging closure of its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin, to a committee headed by a former judge.
A bench headed by chairperson A K Goel, said that the committee will also include representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Environment Ministry.
"We are of the view that in substitution of the impugned orders, we have to hear before an independent body and remit the matter for fresh consideration before the committee," the bench said.
The Tribunal asked the committee to assume work within two weeks and to decide the matter within six weeks thereafter.
The Green Tribunal said that it will decide the name of the committee head after consulting the probable names.
The panel also reiterated its earlier order allowing Vedanta to access administrative unit of its plant at Tuticorin.
The NGT asked the committee to look into the maintenance work of the plant.
On August 9, the Tribunal had allowed Vedanta to enter the administrative unit inside its Sterlite copper plant at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, observing that no environmental damage would be caused by allowing access to the section.
The green panel had, however, said the plant would remain closed and the company would not have access to its production unit and directed the district magistrate to ensure this.
On July 30, the court had refused to grant any interim relief to Vedanta, which had challenged the Tamil Nadu government's order to permanently shut down its Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi, even as the firm termed the government action "political".
On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objections with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta's plea.
The Tamil Nadu government had, on May 28, ordered the state pollution control board to seal and "permanently" close the mining group's copper plant following violent protests over pollution concerns.
Earlier in April, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had rejected Sterlite's plea to renew the Consent To Operate certification, saying the company had not complied with the stipulated conditions.
Following this, the government issued a permanent closure notice to the plant.
Sterlite's factory had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak led to the death of one person and injuries to several others, after which the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa had ordered its closure.
The company had then appealed to the NGT, which had overturned the government order. The state had then moved the Supreme Court against it and the case is still pending.
The Supreme Court had then ordered the company to pay Rs 1 billion as compensation for polluting environment.
Following the latest protests and police firing, the plant was closed on March 27.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Tuticorin plant, villagers around it started fresh protests that continued for over 100 days, culminating in the May 22 police firing on protestors that claimed 13 lives and left scores injured.