NGT clears way for reopening of Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi
The Vedanta-owned Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi has come a step closer to reopening. On Saturday, India's environmental court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), termed the state government's order to close the plant as 'unjustifiable'. The NGT further asked the state pollution control regulator to issue a fresh order of renewal of consent for the plant within three weeks. Here's more.
Further, the NGT has ordered Sterlite owners Vedanta to spend Rs. 100cr over three years on 'welfare activities' in the region. This Rs. 100cr is to be spent over and above the Rs. 10cr the company spends annually on welfare in Thoothukudi under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, the TN government has said that it will challenge the NGT decision in the Supreme Court.
The NGT order comes almost seven months after the TN government ordered a permanent closure of the plant. The plant's closure had been ordered on the back of escalating protests by locals against environmental pollution caused by the plant. Notably, 13 people had been killed in a police firing when the protests escalated, causing nationwide outrage against the entire incident.
The police firing took place on May 22, which marked the 100th day of the protest by local residents demanding the closure of the Sterlite plant. Residents had alleged that the plant was causing health problems for those living in Thoothukudi, apart from polluting and depleting ground water. Protests had turned violent after residents learnt of Vedanta's plans to double the plant's capacity.
Subsequently, Vedanta had challenged the TN government's decision in court, alleging that the government's action had been politically motivated. While the NGT offered no interim relief to Vedanta in July, it allowed the company to access its administrative unit inside the plant in August. However, the NGT ordered that the rest of the plant, including the production unit, remain closed.
Meanwhile, the NGT had also set up an independent committee to investigate allegations of environmental pollution against the Sterlite copper smelter. For its part, Vedanta had offered to pay Rs. 100cr for the welfare of people in Thoothukudi, as compensation for the pollution caused. With the NGT order now in place, it remains to be seen what becomes of the case.