Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper smelter plant situated in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, India has lately been a subject of controversy. The last being a public agitation on 22nd May 2018, wherein 13 people were killed in police firing. The concern which grew in magnitude and took the face of mass public agitation was the environmental and health concerns of the people living in the vicinity of the area where the plant is located. In pursuance of this agitation, the Government of Tamil Nadu ordered a permanent closure of this plant. This order was appealed by Vedanta Limited.

The National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi, while delivering an order after considering the report submitted by TNPCB, was of the opinion that the matter shall be given a fresh consideration, owing to the fact that Vedanta Limited asserted that the TNPCB’s report is prejudiced keeping the public agitation in the background, which stood opposed by TNPCB. The bench headed by NGT chairperson Hon’ble Justice A. K. Goel took note of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme court in this matter [(2013) 4 SCC 575] wherein the Apex Court allowed the unit to operate subject to paying compensation of Rs. 100 Crores for environmental degradation between the time period of 1997 to 2012, and also observed that in spite of the fact that there have been multiple misrepresentations and deficiencies in maintaining prescribed standards, yet it cannot be ignored that the unit has assisted in increasing the copper production in India as well as generating employment.

Therefore, the bench is of the following view- “Accordingly, we are of view that in substitution of the impugned orders, fresh consideration must be placed by an independent body, subject to further orders of the Tribunal.”

Consequently, on 20th August 2018, the bench appointed the Committee with the following composition-

“i. Justice S. J. Vazifdar, former Chief Justice Punjab & Haryana High Court and former Judge of Bombay High Court, Chairman;

  1. Representatives from Central Pollution Control Board, Member;

iii. Representatives from MoEF&CC, Member.”

But on 28th August 2018 Hon’ble Justice Vazifdar informed about his inability to preside this Committee due to personal problems, thereafter Justice Varun Agrawal, former Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court is being appointed as the Chairman of this Committee.

This Committee has been bestowed with various powers like to visit the site, hear any interveners etc. The Committee is also given necessary security while visiting the site of the unit. The Committee is expected to come up with their decision at the earliest i.e. within six months from the date of this order.

So, in conclusion, the lingering question regarding the reopening of Vedanta’s site at Tuticorin depends upon the decision of this Committee.

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