Green tribunal cites ‘circumstances’ to transfer Sterlite case

Chennai, April 29 (IANS) The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal Monday transferred the Sterlite Industries case to the principal bench in New Delhi, citing “circumstances” that made it not to proceed with the case any further.

“Circumstances did not permit, we are not inclined to hear the case,” said the bench, which was hearing the petition filed by Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. against the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) order to shut down the company’s copper smelter plant at Tuticorin, around 650 km from here.

The bench comprised of judicial member Jutice M.Chockalingam and expert member R. Nagendran.

The bench also said the case papers and the report of the panel headed by P.S.T. Sai, professor at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, would be sent to the principal bench at New Delhi.

The TNPCB had March 30 ordered closure of the 400,000 tonnes per annum smelter plant after sulphur dioxide leaked from the plant March 23, affecting a large number of residents of Tuticorin.

Speaking to IANS, D. Nagasaila, counsel for Fathima Babu, one of the complainants in the case, said: “The decision is very surprising. It will now become very expensive for the individual litigants to go to New Delhi to fight the case. Already coming from Tuticorin to Chennai is a big hassle.”

MDMK general secretary Vaiko said the decision was unexpected and unfortunate and the battle will be waged.

Vaiko has 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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