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Green tribunal refuses interim relief for Sterlite copper plant

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday refused to grant any interim relief to UK-based Vedanta Group company, Sterlite Industries Ltd, to commence operation of its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district.

A bench headed by (NGT) chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said even though the expert committee report said the emission and ambient air quality were within prescribed limits, there is no 'justification' for allowing the plant to start operating as there are claims of gas leakage from the industrial unit.

'We have perused the report. It appears that the stack and ambient air quality are within prescribed parameters.’

Counsel for Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and interveners contend there have been instances of gas leakage.

Therefore, despite the report, there is no justification for vacation of stay,' the bench said.

The Tribunal was hearing the appeals of Sterlite seeking stay on the order of closure of its plant by  Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board  and the disconnection of power supply to its unit.

Sterlite has sought commencement of operations, saying it was incurring a loss of Rs five crore per day.

Counsel for Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Boardopposed Sterlite's appeal, saying it is not maintainable as the company should have first approached the state appellate authority against the orders of the pollution control board.

Vaiko, the general secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhaga (MDMK), who is a party in the case, also opposed Sterlite's plea to commence operations. Vaiko contended that emission from the plant is likely to cause harm to the environment and the general public.

The National Green Tribunal  will now on 14 May hear arguments on maintainability of the plea and in the meanwhile has directed its registry to provide copies of the expert panel's report to all the parties.

On 10 March, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had ordered the closure of the plant after locals complained of gas leakage. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered closure of the smelter plant after sulphur dioxide allegedly leaked from the plant on 23 March and affected a large number of residents of Tuticorin.Following this, Sterlite had moved the tribunal. On 18 April, a panel was constituted by the National Green Tribunal to inspect the copper smelting plant. The panel has made two inspections so far and submitted its report in a sealed cover to the tribunal's south zone bench which, however, transferred the case to Delhi without citing any reasons.

Earlier, on 2 April the Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment.

It had, however, clarified that the imposition of fine would not stand in the way of any action by the state's pollution control board. The apex court had not ordered closure of the plant.
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