Indian court rejects Vedanta’s plea to reopen copper plant

The supreme court said the health and welfare of people residing near the plant is a matter of concern.  Vedanta’s plant has remained closed since 2018

File photo of Vedanta office building in Mumbai. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

Shajil Kumar

In a jolt to Vedanta Limited, the Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed its plea for re-opening of its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi, closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns, while underlining the importance of the health and welfare of the nearby residents.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud dismissed Vedanta’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the August 18, 2020 verdict of the Madras High Court which had rejected the mining giant’s plea for allowing the Sterlite Copper unit to reopen.

The verdict came days after the apex court proposed to set up a panel of domain experts to inspect the unit and suggest further compliances and the way forward, saying shutting down a plant of “national importance” will not serve anybody’s purpose.

While observing that the closure of the industry was undoubtedly not a matter of first choice, the bench referred to the “repeated nature of breaches” coupled with the “severity” of violations by the unit.

“The health and welfare of the residents of the area is again a matter of utmost concern and in the ultimate analysis, the state government is responsible for preserving and protecting their concerns,” said the bench, also comprising justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

“We have heard these proceedings for several days and after careful evaluation of the factual and legal material, we have come to the conclusion that the Special Leave Petition by the industrial unit shall not warrant interference under Article 136 of the Constitution. For the above reasons, the petition shall stand dismissed,” it said.

The plant has been closed since May 2018 after 13 people were killed as police opened fire to quell a protest over alleged pollution caused by it.

The Tamil Nadu government subsequently ordered its closure.

Reacting to the apex court verdict, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote on ‘X’: “The Supreme Court has delivered a historic verdict upholding the closure of Sterlite in Thoothukudi due to the strong arguments placed by our government which shattered all the contentions of the factory management”.

The bench observed it was conscious that the unit had been contributing to the productive assets of the nation and generating employment, but the court has to be mindful of the well-settled principles including principles of sustainable development, the polluter pays principle, and the public trust doctrine. (PTI)