SC dismisses Vedanta’s plea to reopen its unit in Tamil Nadu citing ‘serious violations’

New Delhi, Mar 1 (Representative) The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to grant permission to Vedanta, to reopen its Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin saying the company has committed ‘repeated breaches’ and ‘serious violations.’A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra dismissed the special leave petition filed by Vedanta Limited against the Madras High Court order which dismissed a batch of pleas by the company against the closure of its copper plant in Tuticorin and the orders of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). The Supreme Court said, “. Although the unit has been contributing to the productive assets of the nation and providing employment and revenue in the area, the well-settled principles of environmental jurisprudence must be remembered.” Reminding the company of the principles of sustainable development, The apex court held that the health and welfare of the residents of the area are of utmost concern, and in the ultimate analysis, the state government is responsible for preserving and protecting their concerns. The Supreme Court held that “After capable evaluation, we have concluded that the special leave petition by the industrial unit does not warrant interference under Article 136. The special leave petition stands dismissed.”

The court was hearing the Vedanta’s plea where it challenged the Madras High Court orders which had refused to grant renewal permissions for their plant at Tuticorin.The Tamil Nadu Government had ordered the closure of the unit because the company was violating environmental norms. The Madras High Court had agreed to look into all aspects of the matter to decide on both the closure and renewal of the plant. The petitioner consented to this. If the orders were set aside, the government and board could ask the high court to send the case back for a fresh decision, but the petitioner agreed to let the high court decide everything.The High Court after long deliberations rejected Vedanta’s plea challenging the Tamil Nadu government decision which had refused to renew the Sterlite copper plant’s permission to operate. On the Pollution Board’s behalf, Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan emphatically argued that the facility had been closed due to extensive pollution in the surrounding area. Despite recommendations from several committees urging the company to take corrective actions, these measures were not implemented, he alleged. The High Court ultimately ruled against the Indian multinational mining company, holding that the company had committed many violations. During arguments in the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice pointed out multiple violations by Vedanta, questioning why the court should interfere with the High Court’s factual findings. The court earlier questioned Vedanta’s policy of operating without a hazardous waste license and criticised the pollution control board’s delay in processing the renewal application. The Supreme Court also rejected appeals by the Pollution Control Board, supporting the High Court’s observations about the Board’s inaction.Vedanta said the court shouldn’t have looked at more reasons for closing its plant besides the five specific ones.

These five reasons were -not providing groundwater reports, dumping copper slag, not renewing hazardous waste permission, not giving an air quality report for arsenic, and not making a gypsum pond. The court noted Vedanta’s argument. The Supreme Court had earlier considered forming an expert committee to objectively evaluate Vedanta’s interests and public welfare. The court emphasised the need for collaboration between the state of Tamil Nadu and Vedanta’s representatives to determine the best approach.Chief Justice Chandrachud suggested an independent verification of conditions for Vedanta, ensuring compliance with environmental norms. Vedanta agreed, proposing a committee with representatives from various organisations. The Pollution Control Board opposed the expert committee, citing the detailed findings of the Madras High Court. They argued that pollution led to the plant’s closure despite recommendations for corrective actions. Initially leaning towards an expert committee, the court eventually ruled against Vedanta, stating that the High Court’s decision on the plant’s consent renewal did not require interference. The bench said they should protect the health and welfare of the local community in the region which has witnessed sporadic protests since 1999 against Vedanta’s factory over allegations of soil, water, and air contamination, as well as a violent confrontation in May 2018 between the police and protesters that claimed 13 lives. Chief Justice Chandrachud suggested, “There could be an independent verification of the conditions to be imposed now on the mining company to ensure compliance with environmental norms and additional safeguards”.Agreeing with this suggestion, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, on behalf of the plant, said that the committee could constitute representatives from the environment ministry, NEERI, the Central Pollution Control Board, the Indian Institute of Technology, TNPCB, Vedanta, along with three independent experts.