A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah agreed to hear the matter next week after senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Vedanta, mentioned that the court had allowed the oxygen plant operations on April 27 till July 31 in view of oxygen crisis due to the COVID pandemic.
“We would like to continue operating the plant,” he said, adding that an application has been filed for it.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Tamil Nadu government, said that he was opposing the petition as the “state has enough supply of Oxygen”.
He told the bench that he does not have the application filed by Vedanta in the matter. The bench asked Salve to serve the copy of application to Sibal and directed for listing of the matter next week. On April 27, the top court had allowed Vedanta to operate its closed oxygen plant at Tuticorin, saying the order has been passed in view of “national need” for oxygen and there should be no “political bickering” over the generation of the gas by the company as the country is facing a “national crisis”.
The apex court made it clear that Vedanta shall not be allowed to enter and operate its copper smelting plant under the garb of this order and that permission to operate an oxygen plant would not create any equity in the company's favour. It had directed the state government to form an oversight committee to oversee the functioning of the plant which would include District Collector and Superintendent of Police (SP) of Tuticorin, District Environmental Engineer, Sub-Collector Tuticorin and two government officials. The court had said the order allowing Vedanta to operate its oxygen plant would be in operation till July 31, 2021 after that it will assess the ground situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 23, the top court had said people are dying due to lack of oxygen, and questioned the Tamil Nadu government on why it can't take over Vedanta's Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin, closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns, for producing oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients. It was hearing Vedanta's plea seeking opening of its Sterlite copper unit at Tuticorin on the ground that it would produce thousand tonnes of oxygen and give it free of cost to treat patients.
The apex court on December 2, 2020 had rejected the plea of Vedanta that it be permitted to inspect its Sterlite copper plant and to operate it for a month to assess the pollution level. Vedanta had sought handing over of the plant for three months saying it requires two months to start the unit and the company should be allowed to run it for four weeks to ascertain whether its polluting or not. Vedanta, in August last year, moved the apex court challenging the Madras High Court order refusing it to allow reopening of the Tuticorin plant. The high court had upheld the orders of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) directing closure of the unit in May 2018. Vedanta had approached the high court in February 2019, seeking to reopen Sterlite plant which was closed following an order of May, 2018 issued by the TNPCB in the backdrop of violent protests against the unit which left 13 people dead in police firing on May 21 and 22.