Court orders closure of Sterlite’s copper smelter plant

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CHENNAI - In another setback for the Vedanta group, the Madras High Court Tuesday ordered the immediate closure of the Tuticorin-based copper smelter plant of its Sterlite Industries India Ltd for violating various environmental laws and causing pollution.

Delivering its order on batch of writ petitions filed by National Trust for Clean Environment (NTCE) and MDMK General Secretary Vaiko, a bench of Justice Elipe Dharmarao and Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar also said that the employees are entitled to compensation under Section 25 of the Industrial Disputes Act.

The act provides for payment of compensation at the rate of 16 days wages for every completed years of service on closure of a plant.

The Supreme Court last month refused environmental clearance for its bauxite mining venture in Orissa.

The high court also asked the Tuticorin district collector to take necessary steps for the re-employment of the factory workers in other organisations around Tuticorin, to the extent possible, to protect their livelihood.

Quashing the environmental clearances given by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for the original setting up of the plant as well as subsequent capacity expansion, the court said that the plant had come up within the 25 km of the environmentally fragile zone near the Gulf of Mannar.

“The bench ordered closure of the plant as it was violating pollution laws and functioning without holding the mandatory public hearing and environment impact assessment (EIA),” NTCE’s advocate G.Rama Priya told IANS.

From the start, the copper smelter plant was mired in controversy. Originally the plant was planned in Maharashtra and Goa but it faced severe opposition from the states’ people. However, the AIADMK regime under J. Jayalalithaa gave a warm welcome to the project and allotted land at Tuticorin.

Ever since then the plant was in the eye of storm with Vaiko leading a protest against the project and later filing a case.

Writ petitions were filed against the environmental clearances between 1996 and 1998 but the court allowed the plant to continue operations.

The writ petitions were finally heard in January-February this year and the court reserved its orders.

“The company has been running the plant since then after getting requisite approvals from the State Pollution Control Board/the concerned regulatory authorities,” Sterlite Industries’ spokesman told IANS.

“We understand that an order has been passed today by the honourable high court ordering closure of the company. The company is awaiting full text of the order so as to decide on necessary recourse measures,” he said, adding the company is one of the largest in Tamil Nadu, employing around 3000 people and provides indirect employment to a large number of people.

“It contributes about Rs. 1,600 crores to the exchequer annually, he added.

The company’s operations in Tuticorin include the smelter, a refinery, and production of phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, and copper rods.

Sterlite Industries was in the process of expanding the copper smelter capacity and putting up a 160 MW captive power unit at Tuticorin. The project was slated to go on stream next year.

–Indo Asian News Service

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