Sterlite copper plant vs TN Govt...What's going on in the legal battle?

The Supreme Court has on Friday accepted Vedanta's petition for hearing next week and the company has sought a directive to permit it to operate the Sterlite Copper plant at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu after the July 31 deadline. The apex court's acceptance to hear the petition has come hours after the Tamil Nadu government has ordered to shut down the plant. The plant was functioning exclusively since April 27 to produce medical oxygen to tackle the oxygen crisis in the state amid the horrendous second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The copper plant was functioning for the past three months with the deadline set by the court that it has to shut down its operation by July 31. The plant was initially closed in May 2018 after the intense protests from the local people in Thoothukudi had ended up with the police firing, which has killed 13 people and wounded dozens of people. The protests were due to the concerns raised by the people that the copper plant is threatening their livelihoods and breaching the pollution protocols. 

After bitter events of killing 13 people under the claim that anti-social elements had infringed the protests, the previous ADMK regime has ordered to close the plant in May 2018 and the Madras High Court has upheld the orders of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board directing the closure of the copper unit. Vedanta had moved to the Supreme Court in August last year challenging the Madras High Court's order of refusing to reopen the Sterlite copper plant. 

However, the apex court has on December 2, 2020, had rejected Vedanta's plea seeking reopening, and three months after that, the Sterlite Copper plant was allowed to operate in April 2021 to produce only medical oxygen. When Tamil Nadu and most parts of the nation were battling for medical oxygen to treat the Covid-19 patients amid the horrendous second wave of the pandemic, Vedanta has moved to the Supreme Court to seek its directive to function the plant under the grounds of producing thousands of tonnes of medical oxygen and provide it to Covid-19 treatments. 

Vedanta has asserted that it will only be producing medical oxygen and the Supreme Court has asked the Tamil Nadu government why it can't take over Vedanta's Sterlite Copper unit for producing oxygen to treat Covid-19 patients. After the hearing, the apex court has on April 27 allowed Vedanta to operate its closed oxygen plant at Thoothukudi and stated that the order has been passed in view of the national need for oxygen as the country is facing a national crisis. 

The Supreme Court has pronounced a clear verdict that Vedanta shall not be allowed to operate its copper smelting plant under the guise of producing oxygen and the court has also ordered the state government to form an oversight committee to oversee the functioning of the plant which would include District Collector and Superintendent of Police of Thoothukudi, District Environmental Engineer, Sub-Collector of Thoothukudi, and two government officials. 

The court has allowed Vedanta to operate the Sterlite copper plant till July 31, 2021, following which it will assess the ground situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the order, Sterlite had started the production of medical oxygen in April, and as the deadline ends on Saturday, the Tamil Nadu government has on Friday ordered to close the Sterlite plant after the state has got an adequate amount of medical oxygen and the Covid-19 pandemic has been coming under control in the state. 

However, Vedanta has moved its petition to the Supreme Court seeking to continue operating its oxygen plant at Thoothukudi beyond the July 31 deadline. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah has agreed to hear Vedanta's petition next week. Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Vedanta, said that the company would like to continue operating the plant and added that an application has been filed for it. As Vedanta's legal battle of operating the Sterlite plant would begin next week, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, said that he was opposing the petition of Vedanta as the state has enough supply of oxygen.