Sterlite row: HC pulls up Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board

The now defunct Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi has operated for 16 years and 92 days without valid Consent to Operate from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and operated for 10 years, two months and 15 days without Hazardous Waste Management (HWM) authorisation. Who is to be blamed?

While holding Sterlite accountable, the Madras High Court has practically indicted TNPCB for the botch-up. “TNPCB did nothing in the matter. The regulator failed to discharge their duties diligently bearing in mind the purpose for which it was constituted,” the court observed

In a major setback to the Vedanta Group, the Madras High Court on Tuesday refused to allow the reopening of Sterlite Copper’s smelter unit at Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. Justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan, in an 815-page judgment, dismissed a batch of 10 petitions filed by Vedanta, challenging, among other things, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) order rejecting the ‘consent to operate’ the plant.

The Madras high court’s decision on Tuesday to keep the Vedanta Ltd-owned Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi permanently closed may prompt companies to meet pollution control norms, legal experts and industry consultants said.

Sterlite Copper, a unit of billionaire Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta group, ran a 400,000 tonne-capacity copper plant in Thoothukudi. The company’s planned expansion of the plant was opposed by locals in May 2018. In the ensuing protests, 13 people lost their lives in police firing.

Leaders across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Madras High Court’s verdict on Tuesday ordering the Sterlite copper plant in Thoothukudi to remain shut. The verdict comes as a huge relief for residents in villages around the plant who have been protesting against it for over two decades.

Political leaders who have spoken up against the Vedanta-owned copper smelter in recent years, especially following the May 2018 police firing, called the verdict a victory for environmental justice in the state.