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Major Blow for Vedanta as Supreme Court Rejects Plea to Reopen Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant in Tamil Nadu

26 Mar 2024 , 03:18 PM

On February 29, the Supreme Court denied Vedanta's request to reopen its Sterlite copper smelter facility in Tamil Nadu for judgement.

The court ruled that 'We are aware of the nature of the company's contribution to the area.' However, the court must be cognizant of the idea of sustainable development, and the health and welfare of the area's population is of the highest importance.'

After hearing the case for five days, the court issued its decision, citing Vedanta's failure to comply with legal obligations, such as failing to remove copper slabs from nearly 11 sites, failing to comply with consent conditions for gypsum operations, and failing to obtain authorization for hazardous waste disposal.

A court led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud stated that although shutting down industries is not the first option. However, given the frequency with which laws and regulations were broken, the high court and the authorities were forced to shut down the industry.

During prior sessions, the court proposed forming an expert committee to assess the feasibility of establishing the facility. Vedanta agreed to form the committee and offered specific conditions. However, neither the Tamil Nadu government nor the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) agreed on the formation of a committee.

In 2018, the Tamil Nadu government ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper after 13 people were killed by police during violent protests against the factory. The authorities claimed violations of environmental regulations as the cause for the closure.

At the time, the factory produced more than 400,000 tonnes of metal ores per year, accounting for 40% of India's copper output. It also employed 5,000 individuals directly and 25,000 indirectly.

Vedanta, the parent firm of Sterlite Copper, disputed the government's decision, and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) permitted the factory to reopen after determining that the closure was unreasonable. However, the Supreme Court overruled the verdict, directing Vedanta to seek temporary remedy from the Madras High Court.

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