In an all-party meeting headed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on April 26 (Monday), the state parties were in consensus over opening the Sterlite plant for producing oxygen ‘only for four months.’
However, opinions were divided as to who will run the plant. While some parties demanded that the state government should run the plant, others felt that Sterlite can go ahead with it.
Hours before the all-party meeting, Sterlite in its affidavit filed in the Supreme Court said that the state government lacked expertise in oxygen production, so, it should not be allowed to take over the plant.
“It is submitted that the oxygen plant should not be allowed to be run by the Tamil Nadu government as, the plant requires 45 trained personnel to operate it at its full capacity. The plant can be operated by engineers having the expert domain knowledge and by those who are competent and trained over a period of time with an experience of at least 20 years,” it said.
The petition also said that since the oxygen plant has been constructed at a cost of ₹ 150 crore with an average annual maintenance cost of ₹ 2 crore, it is not advisable to allow inexperienced personnel to operate the plant.
“Keeping in mind the aforesaid, it is just beyond the competency and financial ability of the government to run this oxygen plant,” it added.
The running of the oxygen plant by the state government is likely to pose grave danger not only to assets but to the personnel deployed for the operation, the petition said.
The DMK and its allies have said that Sterlite can be allowed to reopen to produce oxygen on the grounds of humanity. It said the plant should not be allowed to use its own power supply; the state government should supply it; to ensure that the plant is not used for any purposes other than oxygen production.
They also said that the process should be monitored by a high-level committee to ensure that the plant took only oxygen production. The CPI-M stressed that the plant should be run by the state government instead of entrusting it to the plant administration.
In its petition, Sterlite has said “it is willing to operate the plant for such period as maybe permitted under the supervision of an independent body such as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) or the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) or other authority/agency as may be deemed fit by the court”.
The MDMK, VCK and NTK which were in the forefront against the copper smelting plant were not called for the meeting. The government said it sent the invite to only recognized parties.
“The copper smelting machines should be removed. The state government should take the entire responsibility of running the plant,” MDMK chief Vaiko told the media.
Earlier on April 23, the Supreme Court, while hearing Vedanta Ltd plea on making the Sterlite plant in the state operational again for manufacturing medical oxygen, said it cannot cite law and invite problems at a time when the country is struggling for supply.
The court observation came after the Supreme Court on April 22 called the COVID situation as “almost a national emergency” and agreed to hear Vedanta’s petition on the ground that it would produce 1,000 tons of oxygen and give it free of cost for treatment of patients.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde suggested that Tamil Nadu can manufacture it and asked the state government to submit a proposed plan by Monday.