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Indian Case Summary

M/S. Sterlite Industries (India) … vs The Chairman Tamil Nadu Pollution … on 8 August, 2013 – Case Summary

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In the case of M/s Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. versus The Chairman Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, the National Green Tribunal was called upon to adjudicate a dispute that arose from the closure of Sterlite Industries’ copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The closure was ordered by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on March 29, 2013, citing violations of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

Facts of the Case

Sterlite Industries, a public listed company, had been operating a copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi since 1996 with requisite approvals and consents issued by regulatory authorities. On March 23, 2013, the company was informed of complaints of eye irritation and throat suffocation from residents of Thoothukudi town. The TNPCB inspected the plant and found that the SO2 emission monitor was not connected with the CARE Air Centre of TNPCB, Chennai, indicating that the Air Pollution Control measures were not properly operated. Consequently, the TNPCB issued a show-cause notice to Sterlite Industries on March 24, 2013, asking why action, including closure of the unit, should not be taken against it.

Issues Raised

Sterlite Industries challenged the closure order on the grounds that it was arbitrary, discriminatory, and passed without proper application of mind. The company argued that the order was based on no scientific study or data and ignored substantive and relevant considerations. The TNPCB, on the other hand, refuted these contentions and raised a preliminary objection regarding the maintainability of the appeal, stating that an appellate authority had been constituted by the Government of Tamil Nadu and the appeal should lie before that authority.

Court’s Observations and Judgment

The National Green Tribunal noted that the Sterlite Industries plant was running without any violations and with the approval and sanction of the competent authorities. The Tribunal also observed that the company had complied with 29 out of the 30 directions given by the TNPCB based on a report by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in 2005.

The Tribunal further noted that the complaints of eye irritation and throat suffocation were received from areas around 7 to 8.1 km away from the plant. Given the average wind speed during the complaint period, the Tribunal observed that the pollutant would have taken approximately 9-10 hours to reach the complainant area, during which time the plant was under start-up process and the emissions were within regulatory standards.

The Tribunal also took into account the Supreme Court’s judgment in Sterlite Industries (India) Limited v. Union of India & Ors., where the apex court had set aside the Madras High Court’s order to close down Sterlite Industries’ plants and permitted the company to carry on its business.

The detailed judgment of the National Green Tribunal in this case is yet to be provided in the source document.