Panel to inspect Sterlite’s copper smelter

Chennai, April 26 (IANS) An expert panel set up by the National Green Tribunal to inspect the controversial copper smelter plant of Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd at Tuticorin is expected to carry out its second round of inspection Saturday, said an official.

“The expert panel is expected to inspect the plant tomorrow (Saturday). The plant is set to start trial production today (Friday) evening or Saturday morning,” the official told IANS over phone from Tuticorin, around 650 km from here.

The official said the Saturday inspection might be the second and final as the panel has to submit its report by April 29 as per the tribunal’s order.

On April 23, the panel headed by P.S.T. Sai, professor at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, had inspected the 400,000 tonne per annum copper smelter plant of Vedanta Resources Group, London.

Sterlite Industries had started the heat-up process April 23 to restart the plant for trial production.

On April 18, the tribunal ordered setting up of an expert panel headed by Sai.

The tribunal was hearing an appeal from Sterlite Industries against the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) order to shut down the plant in Tuticorin, for leakage of sulphur dioxide in March.

The committee will inspect various equipment in the copper smelter plant that Sterlite will run for it and not for commercial production.

The TNPCB had March 30 ordered closure of the smelter plant after sulphur dioxide leaked from the plant March 23, affecting a large number of residents of Tuticorin.

Sterlite has appealed against the closure order before the tribunal.

Meanwhile, MDMK general secretary Vaiko filed a review petition April 23 in the Supreme Court against its April 2 order of setting aside an earlier Madras High Court order shutting down the smelter plant.

According to the review petition, Sterlite Industries operated the plant without valid permission and concealed and misrepresented that fact in its special leave petition (SLP) filed in the Supreme Court.

The apex court in its order, however, asked Sterlite Industries to deposit Rs.100 crore with the authorities to make amends “for such damages caused to the environment from 1997 to 2012 and for operating the plant without a valid renewal (of licence) for a fairly long period, the appellant-company obviously is liable to compensate by paying damages”.

Vaiko, in his review petition, raised a question of law whether an industry that polluted the environment through emissions for a very long period, if permitted, will have a right to pollute the environment by merely paying compensation.

He also asked whether the apex court’s judgment is a precedent that the status of the industry with regard to its income and tax payment or importance of the product manufactured is vital consideration for making a decision on environment protection.

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