TN against Vedanta reopening plant, SC retorts: ‘Why don’t you make oxygen?
The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday (April 23) took the Tamil Nadu government to task for failing to “fulfill responsibility in manufacturing oxygen” in the wake of a nationwide oxygen crisis following second COVID-19 wave. The apex court was hearing Vedanta Limited’s application on re-starting its Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant to manufacture medical oxygen.
The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday (April 23) took the Tamil Nadu government to task for failing to “fulfil responsibility in manufacturing oxygen” in the wake of a nationwide oxygen crisis following the second COVID-19 wave. The apex court was hearing Vedanta Limited’s application on re-starting its Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant to manufacture medical oxygen.
Vedanta had submitted a petition in the apex court on Thursday, saying it could produce 1,000 tonnes of oxygen per day and give it free of cost for treatment of patients if allowed to reopen its Thoothukudi copper smelter plant, which was closed two years back over large scale protests from locals over pollution concerns.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, arguing for Vedanta, told the Supreme Court, “We want this permission only to start the oxygen plant. And we will supply it free of cost. Give us the permission today and we can start producing it in 5-6 days.”
Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for Tamil Nadu state, told the court that reopening of the oxygen plant could be an invitation for “law and order problems” since the public is opposed to the same.
Chief Justice S A Bobde retorted saying, “Why don’t you fulfill your responsibility in manufacturing oxygen? Just because you have problem with Vedanta, you will not manufacture oxygen? What kind of an argument is this? We are not interested whether Vedanta or A, B, or C runs it. We are interested in ensuring oxygen is produced. It is not a question of Vedanta. People are dying. You (state) can produce oxygen.”
The Supreme Court suggested that the Tamil Nadu government operate Vendanta’s Thoothukudi plant itself to manufacture oxygen. The court told the state government to submit a plan to this effect by April 26.
How can the Vedanta plant meet oxygen supply?
The copper smelter plant at Thoothukudi needs oxygen to support combustion in the smelter process. It has two oxygen plants that can collectively produce 1,050 tonnes of medical oxygen per day. However, the smelter plant at Thoothukudi in Tuticorin has remained closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns.
Sterlite authorities told the Supreme Court that the oxygen plants were operational till March 2018, but they are not aware of its present status since the court had restricted their entry to the factory premises. “The plant will need a thorough check and overhaul before being commissioned for any operations… it may take a few weeks,” Sterlite authorities told the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the oxygen crisis all over the country and termed the current COVID-19 situation as “national emergency”. It was on this ground that the apex court had agreed to hear Vedanta’s petition.