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NGT allows Vedanta to make representation to committee on maintenance of Thoothukudi plant
The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday allowed mining company Vedanta to make representation to a committee headed by former Meghalaya High Court Chief Justice Tarun Agrawal to gain access to its Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel passed the order after the company alleged it was not being allowed access to the plant despite permission granted by the tribunal.
The counsel appearing for the mining firm said that a large quantity of copper concentrate, having 30 per cent Sulphur, was lying inside the plant which needs to be taken care of.
The submission was strongly opposed by senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, who asked why the company was being allowed to make representations to the committee.
"Allow us too. Why don't you record in the order that you have rejected our request. I want to record my protest. I have never seen a judicial tribunal function like this," the senior lawyer said.
The tribunal, however, said that even the state government can approach the committee with its grievances.
The NGT had earlier said a credible mechanism, through which rival contentions can be balanced and final view taken, has to be evolved.
The green panel had said the committee, which include representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, may visit the site and consider technical data.
It had noted in its order that it cannot be ignored that the copper smelting plant contributed to copper production in the country and employed 1,300 people.
"To give opportunity to the parties as above, option before us is either to set aside the impugned order and remand the matter to the TNPCB or to seek a report by referring the matter to an independent and credible committee.
"The committee can go into the material produced by the parties on the issue of environmental compliance as well as impact on inhabitants as perceived or actual," the bench had said.
The green tribunal had asked the committee to submit its report to it and said that the matter be listed for hearing on receipt of report of the panel.
It had directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to provide logistic support to the committee and said their remuneration would be determined by the state government.
The tribunal had also said that the committee may hear intervenors MDMK general secretary Vaiko and K S Arjunan, who is Communist Party of India (Marxist) District Secretary in Tuticorin, if they feel necessary.
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.
At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 when the police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.