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‘Sterlite plant closure order by TN govt unsatisfactory, ambiguous’: Madras HC

Weeks after the Tamil Nadu government issued a government order (GO) shutting down the Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday directed it to draft a policy decision on the closure.

The bench consisting of judges Basheer Ahmed and Selvam called the GO ‘ambiguous’, ‘unclear,’ and ‘unsatisfactory.’ It went on to order the government to draft a policy decision under the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ on the reasons for the closure of the plant and then issue a GO based on that.   

On May 28, the Tamil Nadu government issued an order to shut down the Thoothukudi Sterlite Smelter plant permanently.

In a Government Order issued, the Environment and Forests Department noted, “Under sections, 18(1)(b) of the Water Act, 1974 in the larger public interest, the Government endorse the closure direction of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and also direct the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to seal the unit and close the plant permanently.”

The GO came after the 100-day anti-Sterlite protests ended in violence, with police opening fire on agitators killing 13 people. The GO cited the non-renewal of the plant’s license by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, which had issued directions for closure and disconnection of power supply to the unit on May 24.   

The HC also went on to question the state government over the compensation awarded to the families of 13 protesters, who were killed in police firing last month. Observing that one cannot measure the worth of human life based on compensation, the court asked if the value of human life is only Rs 20 lakh.

The court was hearing a petition filed by MDMK chief Vaiko in April seeking to restrain Sterlite Copper from operating in Thoothukudi.  

Speaking to the media, MDMK leader Vaiko said, “If the court stays the order by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to close the plant, then Vedanta will reopen the plant. Hence there is a need to issue an order to shut down the plant permanently based on the reasons in a policy decision.”

He also said, “I had earlier informed that the order might not even stand before its own Appellate Tribunal. They let the plant function for four years even without the approval of TNPCB. The TN government is favouring Sterlite and acting on his behalf. The closure order that the TN government has issued now is just an eye-wash, done to pacify the people. The judges have also affirmed my opinion on this issue.”

The government has been directed to frame a policy decision and submit it to the court on June 22, when the case next comes up for hearing.

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Source: The News Minute

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