Sterlite protest: HC orders stay on plant's construction after 12 shot dead

Smoke billows out of burning vehicles after a violent protest demanding closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper unit entered the 100th day, in Thoothukudi, on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Madras High Court's Madurai Bench on Wednesday ordered that construction work on the second plant of Vedanta's Sterlite Copper at Thoothukudi be stopped with immediate effect. The development comes a day after 12 people were killed in police firing during protests against the Sterlite factory in Tamil Nadu.     

The order comes on a public interest litigation petition filed against Sterlite's application for renewal of environmental clearance for the proposed second plant, which was meant to double its copper refining capacity to 800,000 tonnes.  

A Division Bench of Justices Anita Sumanth and M Sundar said that the application for renewal of environmental clearance by Vedanta should be processed expeditiously by conducting a mandatory public hearing in four months from now, on or before September 23, 2018.

The petitioner, R Fatima of Thoothukudi, alleged that after Sterlite Industries obtained environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for a second copper smelter plant in 2009, it was renewed in 2015 and 2016 by "misrepresenting" the project location as being within a notified industrial complex.

SIPCOT Industrial Estate Phase-II, where the proposed copper smelter plant was to be commissioned, itself was yet to obtain environmental clearance from the authorities, she said. 

The petitioner claimed that environmental clearance was given to the second copper plant without any public hearing -- one of the requirements for the grant of clearance. 

The public continues to suffer and complain about health hazards that were caused by the operation of the plant, she alleged.

Further, the petitioner said that SIPCOT Industrial Estate I and II were different projects and Phase-II was not an extension of Phase-I. The public hearing was exempted on the ground that the project was an extension. The clearance, according to the petitioner, was obtained through misrepresentation.

She sought an injunction against the commissioning of the second copper plant and quashing of the environment clearance granted by both the Centre and the state for being against the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.

For the past 100 days, people living in and around the project site have been protesting against the Sterlite Copper smelter plant. The protest turned violent on Tuesday and the police opened fire on the protesters, killing 11 people.     

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