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NGT allows Sterlite copper plant to resume production

The National Green Tribunal on Friday allowed UK-based Vedanta Group company, Sterlite Industries Ltd, to commence operation of its copper plant in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar made it clear that Sterlite's unit will start operating in the presence of a committee set up by the tribunal. The four-member panel will comprise secretary of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a member or engineer from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and two members of IIT, Madras who were part of a panel set up earlier by Chennai bench of NGT.
The committee will meet in a week's time and in its presence Sterlite's unit will began operation.

The bench also observed in its order that the 29 May closure order of TNPCB directing closure of the Sterlite plant was passed in an abrupt manner based on mere apprehension of leakage of gas, without any scientific data to support the same.
'A mere apprehension would not be sufficient for passing such drastic orders,' the bench said.

'No scientific data, analysis, etc, has been placed before us to show emission in excess of prescribed parameters' continued between 23 March to 29 March, the bench also said.

The NGT also said that the timing of the complaints against Sterlite and the alleged leak of gases 'are not compatible to draw a conclusion that industry was offending.'

It also said that 'in the facts and circumstances of the case, it is difficult to accept the contention' of the TNPCB that Sterlite's plant was shut down as a precautionary measure. The industry was allowed to operate for six days after the alleged incident of gas leakage on 23 March, the bench also noted.

'This (TNPCB order) was not a precautionary measure but per se punitive,' the bench said. The NGT also noted that the complaints against Sterlite's copper plant, of endangering human life was from a village 8 km from the unit.
The tribunal said that if it was a case of excessive emission containing impermissible levels of harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2), persons near the unit would be more affected by release of such gas and by the time it reaches 8 km away, its impact would have reduced.
'This, though not a deterministic factor, is indicative of a possibility that no offence was being conducted by applicant,' the bench said.
The bench also observed that it is undisputed that the area where Sterlite's unit is located is an industrial complex and there are a number of
other industries there, including thermal power units.

'The TNPCB has not placed on record any determinative scientific data or reports to show that applicant industry (Sterlite) alone was responsible for the alleged emission of SO2 on 23 March,' it said.
The tribunal also said that the TNPCB failed to discharge its obligation to ascertain whether there was leakage of gas and to support their claim by scientific data and analysis.
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