The Supreme Court on Monday declined to interfere with an NGT order to set up an experts committee to study the impact of Vedanta's copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu on the environment. The state government ordered the closure of the plant on May 22, prompting the company to approach the tribunal.
The tribunal had on August 20 set up the committee headed by a retired Judge to visit the smelting plant in Tuticorin, gather technical data and submit a report. The Tamil Nadu government challenged the setting up of the committee in the Supreme Court, contending that company's plea in NGT was not maintainable. Vedanta should have gone to the Madras High Court, not NGT, the state pleaded.
Tamil Nadu had ordered for the closure of the Tuticorin plant, around 650 km from Chennai, following protests and the death of 13 persons in police firing on May 22.
Refusing to interfere with the National Green Tribunal's order to set up the committee, a bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Indu Malhotra said that the NGT will continue to hold hearing on merit and maintainability of the plea after the panel submits its report.
"Once the committee report is given to the NGT, it will proceed with the hearing," the court ordered.
Besides technical members, the committee has representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board and Ministry of Environment and Forest.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Nariman said that the top court's August 17 order has not been brought to NGT notice. "Our order has to be obeyed."
As one of the counsel in the case said that the August 17 order was brought to NGT notice, Justice Nariman pointed out that it does not find mention in the August 20 NGT order.
The bench had on August 17 said: "We clarify that the National Green Tribunal may continue to hear the matter on merits and finally decide the matter both on the maintainability as well as on merits."
Disposing of Tamil Nadu government's challenge to the tribunal permission to Vedanata to access the administrative section of its now-shut Sterlite plant in Tuticorin, the court had said that it was open to Tamil Nadu to "argue the matter on the maintainability more fully after which the tribunal will render its final findings both on the maintainability as well as on merits."
As senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan insisted that the maintainability of the petition by the mining major be decided first, Justice Nariman said: "It is not our order. We had said both."
Vaidyanathan said that the mining major could have approached the High Court only and not the tribunal against the closure order.
"We are not with you," Justice Nariman said as Vaidvanathan pressed his plea that the maintainability be decided first.
This month, the NGT had permitted access to the plant's administrative office but barred the Sterlite management from accessing the production unit on the premises.