The dearth of oxygen supply in the midst of battling the COVID-19 second wave has triggered a clash between the Central government and the Tamil Nadu state government over re-opening the Sterlite Copper plant in the state, that was closed owing to the large-scale protests from the people, under the guise of supplying oxygen to address the shortage of oxygen in the hospitals to treat the Corona hit patients.
On Thursday, the Central government has informed the Supreme Court that permission can be given to Vedanta, which owns Sterlite, to re-open its Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu to supply medical oxygen as the nation fights the second wave of the pandemic. Representing the government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had informed the nation's top judicial body that the Sterlite Copper plant can be allowed to function to meet the rising need for oxygen.
Mehta said that the Sterlite plant can be permitted to re-open only to supply medical oxygen. The development has come a day after Vedanta had moved its plea to the apex court. On Wednesday, the Vedanta group had offered to supply oxygen from its closed Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu to address the oxygen shortage from its part. The company has written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, and the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary seeking their approval to re-open the plant.
The company further said that the copper unit has two oxygen plants, which can produce 1,050 tonnes of oxygen daily. It has also approached the Supreme Court seeking its order to re-open the plant and in a letter to these players, Sterlite Copper CEO Pankaj Kumar has said that the company would like to use these facilities to prevent the shortage of oxygen in the country. Kumar penned, "We would be grateful to be allowed this opportunity to support the nation's needs. Our staff stand prepared to get these two plants operational in the shortest possible time and begin dispatching oxygen to critical areas as per your direction".
The petition had come to the hearing on Thursday to the Apex court during which Tushar Mehta, who represented the government, had said that the plant can be re-opened to supply oxygen. On Thursday, the court has also appointed Veteran advocate Harish Salve as an impartial adviser to assist the court on the management of COVID-19 in the country. According to reports, Salve is also representing Vedanta in their plea to restart the operations to supply oxygen.
The representation from the Tamil Nadu government has asked a day time to respond for Vedanta's petition post which the Apex Court had slated the hearing for Friday. Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down by the state government in May 2018 after the local people had held large-scale protests with the demand to shut down the plant as it pollutes air and water and put their livelihood under threat and they alleged that the plant was violating rules set by the Pollution Control Board.
Hundreds of people had protested against the plant and the protests had later turned into riots in which the police opened the fire and the firing had killed 13 people and injured many. After three years of being shut down, Vedanta had approached the court to re-open its copper plant under the guise of supplying oxygen.