Vedanta group firm Sterlite Industries today said it is hopeful of commencing production at its Tuticorin copper plant in Tamil Nadu in a week's time after the National Green Tribunal allowed the UK-based company to commence operation at the plant.
A tribunal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar made it clear that Sterlite's copper smelter facility in Tamil Nadu that was closed under orders from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board will start operating now.
Welcoming the tribunal's order, Sterlite said, "We will work closely with the regulatory authorities and expect to resume production in approximately one week."
The tribunal has, meanwhile, appointed a committee to look into the issues of the copper smelter facility that was closed as per orders from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, which had carried a preliminary inspection of the plant on 23 March following public complaints of gas emission.
The four-member panel comprising member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a member or engineer from Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and two members of IIT, Madras are part of the panel set up earlier by Chennai bench of NGT.
The committee will meet in a week's time and oversee restart of the Sterlite unit's operations.
In its order, the bench observed that the 29 May order of TNPCB to close the Sterlite plant was passed in an abrupt manner based on mere apprehension of leakage of gas, without any scientific data to support it.
"A mere apprehension would not be sufficient for passing such drastic orders," the bench said.
"No scientific data, analysis, etc, has been placed before us to show emission in excess of prescribed parameters" continued between 23 March and 29 March, the bench said.
The NGT also said that the timing of the complaints against Sterlite and the alleged leak of gases "are not compatible to draw a conclusion that industry was offending."
It also said that "in the facts and circumstances of the case, it is difficult to accept the contention" of the TNPCB that Sterlite's plant was shut down as a precautionary measure.
The industry was allowed to operate for six days after the alleged incident of gas leakage on March 23, the bench also noted.
"This (TNPCB order) was not a precautionary measure but per se punitive," the bench said.
The NGT also noted that the complaints against Sterlite's copper plant, of endangering human life was from a village 8 km away from the unit.
The tribunal said if it was a case of excessive emission containing impermissible levels of harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2), persons near the unit would be more affected by release of such gas and by the time it reaches 8 km away, its impact would have reduced.
"This, though not a deterministic factor, is indicative of a possibility that no offence was being conducted by applicant," the bench said.
The bench also observed that it is undisputed that the area where Sterlite's unit is located is an industrial complex and there are a number of other industries there, including thermal power units.
"The TNPCB has not placed on record any determinative scientific data or reports to show that applicant industry (Sterlite) alone was responsible for the alleged emission of SO2 on March 23," it said.
The tribunal also said that the TNPCB failed to discharge its obligation to ascertain whether there was leakage of gas and to support their claim by scientific data and analysis.
The tribunal in its oral order also clarified that the reasons in support of its conclusions would follow subsequently.
The tribunal also directed TNPCB to conduct a study of the area around the industrial complex and to find out if there exists any factors which could cause ill health in the people living there and submit a report by 10 July.
The pollution control board was also asked by the tribunal to decide expeditiously Sterlite's application for renewal of its consent to operate, when the company applies for the same.
The board was also directed by the bench to put in order its ambient air quality system and ensure that all the due data is collected from such system.