Supreme Court Rejects Vedanta's Request to Reopen Sterlite Copper Plant

Supreme Court Rejects Vedanta's Request to Reopen Sterlite Copper Plant
Supreme Court Rejects Vedanta's Request to Reopen Sterlite Copper Plant

by Tanushree Jaiswal Last Updated: Mar 01, 2024 - 10:18 pm 439 Views
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The Supreme Court's recent dismissal of Vedanta's plea to reopen its Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi marks a setback for the mining giant. The plant was shut down in 2018 following violent protests that resulted in casualties. Despite Vedanta's efforts the court upheld the closure decision due to environmental violations.

Court Ruling and Reasoning

A three judge panel headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud upheld the rulings of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Madras High Court. These decisions were based on breaches of environmental regulations. The court stressed that although closing down industries is not ideal repeated violations of environmental norms forced authorities to take this step in shutting down the plant.

Various violations including improper disposal of copper slag and mishandling of hazardous waste contributed to the plant's closure. Despite warnings and opportunities for compliance Vedanta failed to rectify the issues leading to the plant's prolonged shutdown.

Government's Response

State government informed the court that the plant shouldn't be seen as crucial for the nation and that there's no need to reopen it. They pointed out that the upcoming copper smelter plant by the Adani Group in Gujarat could meet India's copper needs. Before its shutdown Sterlite's plant supplied about 40% of India's copper demand.

The company's problems began in the 1990s when local fishermen worried about pollution affecting their livelihoods demanded the plant's closure. This led to legal battles including a shutdown order from the Madras High Court in 2010 which was later halted by the Supreme Court. Sterlite faced more challenges after a sulfur dioxide leak in 2013 and violent protests in 2018 ultimately resulting in the Tamil Nadu government closing down the plant.

Supreme Court's decision establishes a precedent for strictly enforcing environmental rules highlighting the need for sustainable development and making polluters accountable for their actions. It emphasizes that public welfare should take precedence over the interests of industries. This ruling is expected to lead to more stringent regulations in India, particularly concerning environmental, social and governance considerations. Regulators are pushing for companies to disclose their ESG practices and adhere to guidelines promoting responsible and sustainable business conduct.

The Case History

In 2018, the government of Tamil Nadu ordered the shutdown of the Sterlite Copper plant after protests turned violent resulting in 13 deaths due to police intervention. The government stated that the plant was violating environmental regulations.

At the time of closure, the plant was a major producer contributing to 40% of India's copper output and employing thousands directly and indirectly. The parent company, Vedanta, contested the government's decision. Initially, the National Green Tribunal allowed the plant to reopen but the Supreme Court disagreed directing Vedanta to seek relief from the Madras High Court.

Neither the Madras High Court nor the Supreme Court permitted the plant to resume operations. Vedanta sought permission for periodic maintenance highlighting the plant's deteriorating condition. In April 2023, the Supreme Court allowed Vedanta to conduct essential maintenance based on a report from a committee appointed by the Tamil Nadu government to assess the plant's safety.

Final Words

The Supreme Court's decision not to reopen Vedanta's Sterlite Copper smelter plant shows a bigger trend where protecting the environment and people's well being comes first in industrial matters. This ruling highlights the significance of following environmental rules and encouraging sustainable growth in India's industries.

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About the Author

Tanushree is a seasoned professional with 6 years of experience in the Fintech and Edtech industry.

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