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Supreme Court asks NEERI to inspect Sterlite plant at Tuticorin

J. Venkatesan

Institution also directed to submit report in eight weeks

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to inspect Sterlite's copper smelting plant at Tuticorin and submit a report in eight weeks.

A Bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik gave this direction taking into consideration conflicting reports submitted by the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board about emissions from the plant.

The Bench asked the NEERI to conduct an inspection of the plant after informing the TNPCB, CPCB and other respondents. Meanwhile, the Bench extended the stay on closure of the plant till the next date of hearing.

Earlier, appearing for the TNPCB, senior counsel Altaf Ahmed submitted that four types of deficiencies had been pointed out by the Board, with regard to providing storage for raw material; providing satisfactory solid waste disposal procedures; preventing fugitive gaseous emissions and carrying out green belting. He said Sterlite had developed only 25 per cent green belt in the areas.

Senior counsel C.A. Sundaram, however, submitted that steps had already been taken by the company to rectify the defects pointed out by the TNPCB. He said the CPCB had certified that the company had complied with all the pollution control measures. He denied the allegations of Mr. Vaiko.

Counsel for CPCB Vijay Panjwani submitted a fresh affidavit on Friday with regard to the four measures pointed out by the State PCB and expressed satisfaction over the steps taken.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko, who was one of the petitioners before the Madras High Court, submitted that the pollution caused by the company was posing serious health problems to the people in the town. The groundwater and air quality had greatly polluted because of the gaseous emissions, he said.

In its special leave petition challenging the Madras High Court judgment, the company pointed out that the order was passed on public interest petitions filed 14 years ago in 1996, when allegations were made on violation of pollution control and environment norms by it.

Between 1996 and 1999, the High Court issued various directions. All were complied with. The plant was being operated for more than a decade with the consent and approval of statutory authorities without complaints. The company was the largest manufacturer and exporter of copper. The SLP prayed for quashing the impugned judgment and an interim stay of its operation.

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