NEW DELHI: With Tamil Nadu relenting, the Supreme Court on Tuesday permitted Vedanta to operate its oxygen production unit in the copper smelting plant in Tuticorin, lying closed for three years after violent protests triggered by serious health hazards from its effluents, on a standalone basis to offset scarcity of oxygen for Covid-19 patients across the country.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and S R Bhat said, “We are inclined to allow Vedanta to operate the oxygen producing unit at its Tuticorin plant on a standalone basis. It will not create any equity in favour of Vedanta to run the copper smelting plant in future. This permission is given only for the purpose of ramping up oxygen production capacity in the country”.
For the limited purpose of producing oxygen, the SC set up a big committee headed by the Tuticorin collector, which will include two environmentalists chosen by organisations representing victims of noxious discharge by the copper smelting plant, to monitor the operation.
Appearing for Vedanta, senior advocate Harish Salve said the conditions imposed by the SC were acceptable and that the unit would be operational within 10 days and start producing around 200 tonnes of oxygen. The plant would buy electricity and give the gas free of cost to the Union government for distribution among states, he said. In due course, it would aim to produce 1,000 tonnes of oxygen, Salve said.
Tamil Nadu had last week expressed its reservations on allowing Vedanta to reopen the plant, apprehending a repeat of the violence in the locality which witnessed violent protests in 2018 leading to police firing and death of 13 people. Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan said keeping in view the national crisis, the state government called an all-party meeting and consulted the local population before agreeing to open th unit with the caveat that it would be monitored by the state apparatus with local representation.