Sterlite Copper
The plant was shut on May 23, 2018, after which all the hazardous materials were taken out between June 2018 and April 2022. File photo

Sterlite plant: Safety assessment, transport of spares put on hold till final SC verdict

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

In a fresh development regarding Vedanta Ltd’s Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu, the Thoothukudi district administration has put on hold till the Supreme Court’s final verdict the request on civil and structural safety integrity assessment, transportation of spares/equipment and evacuation of in-process reverts and raw materials as “it may jeopardise the whole process for rendering justice”.

This has been stated in the action taken report which Thoothukudi District Collector K Senthil Raj has dispatched to the Additional Chief Secretary, Environment, Climate Change and Forest Department. “If at all, any further retrospective or prospective study has to be conducted to decide the case, spares/equipment, in-process reverts and other raw materials available inside the plant will be of great evidentiary value. Hence, these items shall not be permitted to transfer as it may jeopardise the whole process of rendering justice. This may only be considered after the final verdict,” said the report.

At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22, 2018, when police opened fire on a huge crowd of people in Thoothukudi, protesting against environmental pollution allegedly caused by the factory. The plant was subsequently shut down.

Also read: Vedanta scraps process to sell Sterlite Copper plant in Tamil Nadu

“Since the plant is shut for more than 5 years, there may be a possibility that any attempt to enter into the plant with men for structural safety integrity assessment without a proper plan to restart the plant, may amount to loss of lives of those involved in safety assessment. Hence, the need for reassessment shall be considered after final orders on the original case, so as to execute the orders decided upon the merits,” it further read.

However, the works already sanctioned gypsum evacuation, SLF leachate pumping, SLF-4 bund repair and green belt maintenance “all of paramount importance to be executed before monsoon”, should not be affected to avoid further environmental degradation, read  the report.

Plant shutdown

The plant was shut on May 23, 2018, after which all the hazardous materials were taken out between June 2018 and April 2022. Fourteen different materials classified as hazardous were identified and evacuated safely under the supervision of a local monitoring committee headed by sub-collector, Thoothukudi.

“All other materials except gypsum were taken out safely. Since gypsum alone to the tune of 1.25 lakh MT is remaining, the evacuation order for the same has been given now. Hence, there is no imminent danger due to the plant for anyone or for the plant itself,” according to the report.

Also read: NGO funds behind Vizhinjam project stalemate, Sterlite shutdown: TN Governor

Structures are shut for more than 5 years inside the plant that is located in SIPCOT industrial park at an outlay of 500 acres. There is no other industrial establishment or habitation close enough to the plant that may get affected due to structural collapse, if any. The nearest habitation is Therku Veerapandiapuram which is 5 km away, while Thoothukudi town is at a distance of 14 km. “Hence, the need for immediate attention to avoid any loss of lives does not arise. The gypsum pond and secure landfills are also located far from plant area and have separate entry and exit points,” said the report.

The Supreme Court has already levied a penalty of Rs 100 crore on Vedanta Ltd for causing environmental degradation and mitigate the same. This has been deposited with the district administration with an order to utilise the fund the quality of air, water and soil. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had shut the plant on the charge of pollution, which had been upheld by the Tamil Nadu High Court. Now, the appeal for the same is pending before the Supreme Court which has set August 2023 as the timeline for the final verdict.

Supreme Court move

In April 2023, the Supreme Court had granted permission to Vedanta to carry out maintenance work at its closed Sterlite plant. The decision had been based on the report of a High Powered Committee formed by the Tamil Nadu government to inspect the structural and civil safety of the plant. Last year, the committee had recommended  maintenance activities for the upkeep of the closed plant.

However, the Thoothukudi District Collector had not permitted Vedanta to undertake the  ‘civil and structural safety integrity assessment study’ in the plant premises besides the removal of spares and equipment.

In May first week, the Supreme Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to take  decisions by June 1 on its April 10 direction, by which it had allowed Vedanta to carry out upkeep of the plant.  A nine-member committee, including two from Vedanta, was formed to look into this.

Read More
Next Story