July 5, 2018 / 10:30 AM / 18 days ago

Indian court denies Vedanta's interim request to reopen copper smelter: lawyer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s environmental court did not allow Vedanta Ltd to reopen its copper smelter in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a lawyer representing the state said on Thursday after a hearing on the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Police stand guard outside a copper smelter controlled by London-listed Vedanta Resources in Thoothukudi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sudarshan Varadhan/File Photo

India’s National Green Tribunal did not accept Vedanta’s request to reopen the smelter on an interim basis, V. Mowli, a lawyer for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) said outside the court.

Vedanta has also sought a permanent injunction against the Tamil Nadu state government from interfering with the operations of its copper smelter.

The lawyer representing Vedanta in the hearing, Rohini Musa, did not respond to repeated calls requesting comment. A company spokesman for Vedanta confirmed there was a case before the Tribunal but did not comment specifically on Thursday’s decision.

The Tamil Nadu government ordered the permanent closure of the plant and disconnected its power supply in May following protests that turned violent and culminated in the police opening fire on protesters, killing 13 of them.

The protesters had demanded a permanent shutdown of the plant, which they said was causing air and water pollution, and as a risk to fisheries. Vedanta says the protests were based on false notions.

Vedanta Ltd, a subsidiary of billionaire Anil Agarwal-controlled Vedanta Resources, argued that the closure of the smelter was only based on “political considerations and to appease the public protests,” according to a copy of the petition reviewed by Reuters.

However, the Tamil Nadu government will stick to its stance that the plant is polluting, said Rakesh Sharma, a second lawyer representing the TNPCB.

“We’ll argue on their violation on environmental aspects,” he said. The case will be heard next on July 18 for the state to reply to the issues raised in Vedanta’s petition.

Vedanta said in its petition that inspections by the TNPCB whose findings were used to shut down the plant never happened.

“No such inspection (was) carried out by the officials of the TNPCB” on May 18 or 19, the company said.

Vedanta, which exports copper worth over $1.3 billion annually, is also one of India’s largest producers of sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid, both of which are used to make fertilizers.

The shutdown of the smelter, which employs more than 3,500 people, has lead to a rise in the price of copper in India by over 10 percent, and the price of sulphuric acid by more than 6 times, the company said.

Reporting by Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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