On Tuesday (April 27, 2021), the Supreme Court granted Vedanta permission to restart its closed oxygen plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, citing a "national need" for oxygen.
Vedanta, however, will not be permitted to join and operate its copper smelting plant under the guise of this order, according to a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, and S Ravindra Bhat.
The Supreme Court ruled that since the country is in a state of emergency, there should be no political bickering over Vedanta's production of oxygen. It said that allowing Vedanta to run its oxygen plant would not result in any equity being created in its favour.
The Supreme Court also ordered Tamil Nadu to form a panel to oversee activities at Vedanta's oxygen factory, which would include the district collector and the Tuticorin superintendent of police. This comes just one day after the Tamil Nadu government announced that the Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi will be reopened for a four-month period to manufacture medical oxygen.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said, "The Thoothukudi copper smelter plant could reopen only for the production of oxygen for a period of four months. Vedanta will not be permitted to open or operate additional copper-producing plants under any circumstances. The period may be extended based on the amount of oxygen required. The government will cut off the electricity supply to the oxygen plants after the specified period.”
In 2018, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board shut down the copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi. At least 13 individuals were murdered and many others injured when the state police fired people who demonstrated against the building by Vedanta of a new smelter.
The Bench was informed during the hearing that the locals opposed the plant and that the State apprehends the problems of law and order when the plant is being opened. The Central Government, on the other hand, insisted on reopening the plant in order to increase the oxygen reservation. Advocate Harish Salve submitted in this connection that within ten days Vedanta will be able to produce 200 MT of liquid oxygen.
On Friday (April 23, 2021) the stand of the Government of Tamil Nadu was disregarded by a bench led by CJI Bobde. The bank said life was more important and it observed that the state government was supposed to take over the plant for the production of oxygen.
The plant has been shut down because environmental standards have been violated. Vedanta's request to reopen the plant was discarded by the High Court of Madras in August 2020. The company thereafter requested special leave before the Supreme Court, challenging the High Court verdict.