- Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu closed after protests in 2018
- Sterlite can start producing oxygen in around 10 days: Supreme Court
- "There is a national crisis. People are dying": Supreme Court
The controversial Sterlite copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu, closed in 2018 following protests against alleged pollution, has been allowed by the Supreme Court to run an oxygen plant to help the country tackle its deepening coronavirus crisis. It can begin production in around ten days and must supply it for free, the court said, adding that an expert panel will oversee production. The oxygen will be given to the centre for allocation to states.
"There is a national crisis. People are dying...We have to get the local community on our side," said Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the bench hearing the case.
"No political bickering. We are in the time of a national crisis. We are here to protect lives of citizens. We have to support the nation as a court. It is a national calamity," the court said as the Tamil Nadu government accused the centre of supporting oil-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta, which owns the plant. The centre objected to this, calling it a wrong allegation.
The Supreme Court said the expert panel will decided the number of workers allowed inside the plant.
On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government had allowed Vedanta to reopen the plant partially for four months to produce oxygen. The decision was announced following an all-party meeting where MK Stalin-led DMK suggested that Sterlite "should provide oxygen for free" to Tamil Nadu. The DMK also insisted on the monitoring of the plant's functioning.
Vedanta on Monday said it was working with experts to resolve the logistics of dispatching oxygen. "We are committed to making the entire production capacity of 1,000 tonnes available for the purpose of producing medical grade oxygen," it said in a statement.
Last year, the mining giant's plea to reopen the plant was rejected by the Supreme Court. Earlier, the Madras High Court, too, had refused permission.
Vedanta's appeal against the High Court order of shutting down the plant is pending in the Supreme Court.
The copper plant of Sterlite was ordered to be shut by the Tamil Nadu government in May 2018 over alleged pollution that led to violent protests that culminated in police opening fire on demonstrators and killing 13. The state administration ordered its pollution control board to seal and "permanently" close the plant.
Environmentalists and local activists claim the copper smelting unit was polluting the groundwater in the area, making many come down with serious diseases.
India today reported over three lakh Covid infections for the sixth straight day. This alarming surge has crippled the country's healthcare system with overcrowded hospitals turning away patients as they run out of oxygen and beds.