ILNS: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear an urgent application moved by mining giant Vedanta to carry out some repair in its Sterlite Tuticorin/Thoothukudi plant and open it for oxygen production that will meet the need of oxygen supply in the country free of cost amid the COVID pandemic.
An urgent application was filed by Vedanta before a bench led by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde moved an urgent application through Senior Advocate Harish Salve who sought the Court’s permission to open the Tuticorin plant. He said the plant can manufacture 1000 tonnes of oxygen every day which can be supplied free daily. The bench led by CJI Bobde agreed to hear the plea tomorrow.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the country is in dire need of oxygen. Vedanta wants to make its plant operational but it should be allowed operational to produce only oxygen for health purposes.
CJI Bobde mentioned that in order to address other emerging issues due to increasing in Covid 19 cases the bench is taking suo motu cognizance regarding the Supply of Oxygen, Supply of Essential Drug, the method, and manner of vaccination, and the power to put lockdown. The bench also opined that power to lockout remains with the State Government, not with the Judiciary. The bench also comprised Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat.
The Court will hear the matter tomorrow morning.
The Supreme Court had earlier refused mining giant Vedanta’s plea for the immediate reopening of the Sterlite copper plant. Vedanta had approached the Apex Court challenging the Madras High Court decision rejecting its request to reopen the Sterlite copper plant.
In 2018, the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board had shut the plant citing violations of environmental laws. Later, the plant had turned into a protest site. The protest took a violent turn on its 100th day when police opened fire on the protesters, leading to several civilian casualties.
Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government had opposed the plea after the TNPCB said the plant was a consistent polluter. The government had submitted in his report that the interim arrangement to reopen the plant cannot be given particularly since the High Court had upheld the TNPCB order for closing the plant.
Tuticorin villagers had opposed the order of reopening of Sterlite plant even on a trial basis. The villagers had said the drinking water was poisoned and people had contracted cancer. They said even the HC ruled such a plant can’t be set up in a residential zone. They have no regard for law, environment. They pointed out that the TNPCB didn’t act all these years.
Earlier in February 2019, the Supreme Court set aside the National Green Tribunal order allowing the reopening of the Sterlite plant, on the ground that the NGT did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the case. However, Vedanta was allowed to move the High Court against the orders passed against it.
“We don’t know how they will segregate the oxygen plant from the copper plant and power plant. The application filed by them has said that they need 2-4 weeks to start functioning. Just yesterday, their chief executive has said they need 45 days to get compression machines and start oxygen manufacturing. Now their lawyer says they can manufacture in one week. What is the truth?” asked the lawyer.
The court rapped the Tamil Nadu government. “We don’t understand your attitude,” said the bench headed by CJI Bobde when senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Tamil Nadu, objected to the plea of the company.
“We will ensure compliance of all environmental norms by the plant and its oxygen producing facility would be allowed to operate. We are on the oxygen plant,” the bench said.
“There is almost a national emergency and you (Tamil Nadu) don”t put spokes in the solution. We will hear it (plea of Vedanta) tomorrow,” the bench said in the hearing conducted through video conferencing.