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.
During its hearing here today, an NGT bench headed by Raghuvendra Singh Rathore asked the mining company to file its objection on the impleadment application filed by Vaiko, who has alleged that the state government and Sterlite have entered into a secret pact to facilitate the copper plant to resume operations.
The Tamil Nadu government, however, questioned the maintainability of the petition and said the state pollution control board's order of closure has been challenged by the company before the Appellate Authority of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the same was pending adjudication.
It sought dismissal of the plea saying, "During the pendency of the appeal, the appellants have now challenged the same impugned order before this tribunal also."
"It is submitted that it is trite in law that the same issue cannot be agitated before two judicial authorities at the same time and that any attempt to do the same would be ex-facie illegal and unsustainable in law. It is therefore submitted that the present appeal deserves to be dismissed on this ground alone," the government said.
The tribunal has now asked the company to file its objection and posted the matter for hearing on July 30.
Besides Vaiko, one K S Arjunan, who is Communist Party of India (Marxist) District Secretary in Tuticorin, has also filed an impleadment plea in the case.
On July 5, the tribunal had issued notices to the state government and the pollution board seeking their responses after Tamil Nadu raised preliminary objection with regard to the maintainability of Vedanta's plea.
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 had issued a permanent closure notice for the plant.
Vedanta's plea in the NGT seeks permission to operate the unit and a direction to declare as unlawful and illegal the exercise of powers by the Tamil Nadu government in passing the closure order under section 18(1)(b) of the Water Act.
"Direct the state pollution control board to consider the application for renewal of consent afresh and pass appropriate orders granting the same within a period of one month, for a period of five years, from the date of such consent," the plea said.
Seeking interim relief to begin operations, the company said, "Permit the appellant to operate the unit and plant pending the consideration of the instant appeal and direct the TN pollution control board to restore and provide minimum power supply, water and manpower access for safeguarding the emergency systems of the plant as it houses various chemical and fuels."
"Due to the sudden closure of the plant, the same poses a threat to the surroundings, the plant and the machinery within the plant," it said.
Sterlite's factory had made headlines in March 2013 when a gas leak case led to death of one person and several others getting injured, after which the the 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.
Following the latest protests and the police firing, the plant was closed on March 27. The Supreme Court has also ordered the company to pay a fine of Rs 100 crore.
After Sterlite announced its plans to expand the Tuticorin plant, people in villages 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.
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.