‘Sterlite’s plea to open plant’s not maintainable’

Here in the National Green Tribunal, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board pleaded for not to hear an appeal of Vedanta Group firm, Sterlite Industries Limited, against its order directing closure of the company’s copper smelting plant in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu.

The TNPCB contended that Sterlite’s plea is not maintainable in the Tribunal (NGT) as the company had bypassed the appellate authority set up under the statute to hear the appeals.

Countering the contention, Sterlite said as there was no functional appellate authority in existence when TNPCB’s order was passed, it was justified in directly moving to the NGT.

The group company of UK-based Vedanta Resources urged the NGT to decide the issue of maintainability of its appeal and also whether the TNPCB’s May 30 order for closure of the copper plant be upheld or not as the unit is incurring a loss of Rs 50 crore per day.

A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, which was prepared to reserve orders on whether it should hear the appeal, decided to continue hearing arguments on whether the TNPCB’s order be upheld or set aside.

The Bench will hear further arguments on May 16.

During the proceedings, senior advocate C A Sundaram, appearing for Sterlite, argued that its appeal is maintainable as when the plant was ordered to cease operations, there was no functional appellate authority in existence and challenges to TNPCB’s orders were being heard by the NGT’s Chennai Bench.

He said the appellate authority was non-functional as it had only a single member on its Bench as against the requisite strength of three members.

Counsel for TNPCB, however, contended that the company should have gone to the High Court seeking constitution of the appellate authority instead of directly approaching the NGT which was not provided for under the statute.

No interim relief to Sterlite for operating plant: NGT

To grant any interim relief to UK-based Vedanta Group company, Sterlite Industries Ltd, to commence operation of its copper smelting plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district has been refused by the National Green Tribunal.

A bench headed by (NGT) Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said even though the expert committee report said the emission and ambient air quality were within prescribed limits, there is no “justification” for allowing the plant to start operating as there were claims of gas leakage from the industrial unit.

“We have perused the report. It appears that the stack and ambient air quality are within prescribed parameters. Counsel for Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and interveners contend there have been instances of gas leakage. Therefore, despite the report, there is no justification for vacation of stay,” according to the bench.

The Tribunal was hearing the appeals of Sterlite seeking stay on the order of closure of its plant by TNPCB and the disconnection of power supply to its unit.

Sterlite has sought commencement of operations, saying it was incurring a loss of Rs five crore per day.

Counsel for TNPCB opposed Sterlite’s appeal, saying it is not maintainable as the company should have first approached the state appellate authority against the orders of the pollution control board.

Vaiko, the General Secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhaga (MDMK), who is a party in the case, also opposed Sterlite’s plea to commence operations.

Vaiko contended that emission from the plant is likely to cause harm to the environment and the general public.

The NGT will now on May 14 hear arguments on maintainability of the plea and in the meanwhile has directed its registry to provide copies of the expert panel’s report to all the parties.

On March 30, TNPCB had ordered the closure of the plant after locals complained of gas leakage. The TNPCB ordered closure of the smelter plant after sulphur dioxide allegedly leaked from the plant on March 23 and affected a large number of residents of Tuticorin.

Following this, Sterlite had moved the tribunal.

On April 18, a panel was constituted by the NGT to inspect the copper smelting plant. The panel has made two inspections so far and submitted its report in a sealed cover to the tribunal’s south zone bench which, however, transferred the case to Delhi without citing any reasons.

Earlier, on April 2 the Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore on the company for polluting the environment. It had, however, clarified that the imposition of fine would not stand in the way of any action by the state’s pollution control board. The apex court had not ordered closure of the plant.

Madras HC seeks details of Kudankulam power project

The Madras High Court Tuesday ordered the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to file a fresh consent order for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) Thursday.

The court also ordered Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to file an affidavit Thursday detailing the implementation of the recommendations made by a task force set up by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

The court was hearing two petitions filed by G. Sundarrajan against KNPP challenging the consent given by TNPCB and AERB to NPCIL.

NPCIL is building two 1,000 MW reactors at Kudankulam in Tirunvelveli district around 650 km from here.

“TNPCB submitted to the court that it would withdraw its consent order issued to KNPP. TNPCB submitted that a fresh consent order would be issued. The court also asked AERB to file an affidavit listing out the implementation of the safety measures recommended by a task force set up by NPCIL,” M. Radhakrishnan, the counsel representing G. Sundarrajan the petitioner, said.

The atomic energy regulator Aug 10 gave its nod to NPCIL to load the fuel in the first reactor.

According to the petition, AERB had earlier submitted to the court in another case that it would issue clearances only after completion of review and resolution of reactor commissioning reports and issues relating to the KNPP, including the implementation of safety measures.

Sundarrajan contends that NPCIL has not implemented the entire 23 safety measures recommended by the task force.

In his petition, Sundarrajan contends that the AERB has not applied its mind on the consent order issued by the TNPCB on the tolerance temperature limits for the KNPP effluent before giving its clearance for loading of the fuel in the plant’s first unit.

According to him, the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, states that thermal power plants using sea water should adopt systems to reduce water temperature at the final discharge point so that the resultant rise in the temperature from receiving water does not exceed seven degrees Celsius over the ambient temperature.

The TNPCB, in its consent order, allows the tolerance temperature limit of trade effluent of the KNPP at 45 degrees Celsius while the Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment for the KNPP units 1 and 2 and additional units 3 to 6 has limited the tolerance temperature to 37 degree Celsius.

A central government-appointed expert committee in its report last December said that the seasonal variation in surface water temperature of Kudankulam Marine Environment ranged from 23 degrees Celsius during monsoon and winter to 29 degrees Celsius during summer, with an annual average of 26.6 degrees Celsius.

Court frowns on ministers over Kudankulam launch date

With the protest against Kudankulam nuclear power plant entering its second year, the Madras High Court hearing two petitions against the project Thursday came down on union ministers, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

“Hearing the two petitions, the Madras High Court came down heavily on the union ministers, saying that they respect only the Supreme Court and not the other courts. The court also asked how central ministers can announce KNPP (Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project) commissioning date when a case is being heard,” P. Sundararajan, a lawyer.

P.Sundararajan is junior to advocate M. Radhakrishnan representing G. Sundarrajan who has filed two petitions in the court challenging the consent given by the AERB and the TNPCB to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) that is building the plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, around 650 km from here.

According to Sundararajan, the court also wondered why the AERB was in a hurry to clear fuel loading.

“The AERB gave its nod to NPCIL to load the fuel in the first reactor last week without ensuring the implementation of safety measures in the KNPP as recommended by an expert committee set up to review the safety aspects of Indian nuclear power plants in the wake of nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan,” Sundarrajan told IANS about his petitions.

He said the AERB had earlier submitted to the court in another case that it would issue clearances only after completion of review and resolution of reactor commissioning reports and issues relating to the KNPP, including the implementation of safety measures after the Fukushima accident.

Sundarrajan contends that the AERB has not applied its mind on the consent order issued by the TNPCB on the tolerance temperature limits for the KNPP effluent before giving its clearance for loading of the fuel in the plant’s first unit.

According to him, the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, state that thermal power plants using sea water should adopt systems to reduce water temperature at the final discharge point so that the resultant rise in the temperature of receiving water does not exceed seven degrees Celsius over and above the ambient temperature.

The TNPCB, in its consent order, allows the tolerance temperature limit of trade effluent of the KNPP at 45 degrees Celsius while the Comprehensive Environmental Impact
Assessment for the KNPP units 1 and 2 and additional units 3 to 6 has limited the tolerance temperature to 37 degree Celsius, he said.

Interestingly, the central government-appointed expert committee in its report last December said that the seasonal variation in surface water temperature of Kudankulam Marine Environment ranged from 23 degrees Celsius during monsoon and winter to 29 degrees Celsius during summer, with an annual average of 26.6 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, the protest against the two 1,000-MW atomic power plant entered its second year Thursday with anti-nuclear activists stating that their fight was now two pronged — on the streets and within the portals of the Madras High Court.

“Our fight is on two flanks — civil/democratic and legal. We have been protesting against the project in a non-violent manner for the past one year. Now public interest petitions (PIL) have been filed in the Madras High Court. The court has reserved its decision on one, and two more cases have been filed,” said M. Pushparayan, a leader of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMAN), said.

He said fishermen in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts did not go into the sea Thursday to express solidarity with PMANE and a huge crowd had gathered in Idinthakarai to attend an anti-nuclear power conference

Kudankulam: Centre furnishes copies of pacts

Copies of Kudankulam bilateral treaties India had signed with the erstwhile USSR and Russia in 1988 and 1988, respectively, for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant were furnished to the Madras high court by the Centre in a sealed cover on Thursday.

A division bench comprising Justice P Jyothimani and Justice M Duraiswamy perused the documents and returned them to additional solicitor-general of south India, M Ravindran. The documents were submitted following an earlier direction from the bench while hearing a batch of more than a dozen public interest petitions concerning the nuclear plant.

On Thursday, Ravindran submitted that clearances had already been obtained for the project from the competent authorities such as the Union ministry of environment and forests and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). He said all the short-term requirements had been complied with by the Centre. According to Ravindran, the supplemental agreement signed with Russia in 1998 related to certain variations in financial terms. Emergency plan and drill manual were meant for officers at the plant, details of which could not be divulged in a public forum, he said.

Earlier, counter-affidavits were filed on behalf of the TNPCB as well as the district police. In his counter, the Tirunelveli superintendent of police Vijayendra S Bidari confirmed that some criminal cases were registered with regard to the ongoing agitation against the project. Once the investigation is over, suitable legal action would be taken, he said.

Noting that the protests had drawn a large number of participants, including women and children, the SP said, “If it is not handled properly, with due diligence and care, there may be large-scale law and order disturbances in the area, and possibility of violent outbreaks cannot be ruled out.”

The counter also contended that all efforts were being made to allay the fears of the people with regard to the nuclear plant. “It will require time and sustained efforts,” it said, adding: “It is in the long-term interest of the nuclear plant that the fears in the minds of people residing in its surroundings are fully allayed and they have full confidence in the functioning and safety of this nuclear facility.”

The judges adjourned the matter to June 26 for reply arguments by additional solicitor-general Ravindran.

Court tells Sterlite to seek licence from pollution board

The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Sterlite Industries to apply afresh to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board for the renewal of its licence to run its Tuticorin copper smelting plant.

The plea would be decided after an inquiry by the board in accordance with pollution control laws, the court said.

The apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice H.L. Gokhale said that Sterlite Industries’ copper smelting plant would apply for the renewal of licence within 15 days and the board would decide on the application within one month.

The court passed the order after senior counsel C.A. Sundram, appearing for Sterlite Industries, said that all the recommendations made by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to remove the deficiencies in the plant had been implemented.

The apex court order came during a hearing on a petition by Sterlite Industries challenging a Madras High Court order that directed the closure of the smelting plant.

The high court by its Sep 28, 2010, order directed the immediate closure of the plant. The apex court by its interim order of Oct 1, 2010, stayed the operation of the high court order.

The case would next be heard March 28.