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The Supreme Court on Friday took exception to the Tamil Nadu government’s stand that Vedanta’s shut copper plant at Tuticorin in the state cannot be reopened for producing oxygen as it might “create law and order problems”.
Vedanta had moved the SC on Thursday for opening of its shut Sterlite copper plant for producing 1,050 tonne of oxygen per day (TPD) that can be supplied to hospitals free of cost to treat Covid-19 patients. The oxygen so produced would be made available to the central government to be distributed as per its directions, it had claimed.
Senior counsel CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for the state, told a bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde (now retired) that reopening of the oxygen plant could create an invitation for law and order since the public is opposed to it. “I don’t want a repeat of 2018 incident,” he argued.
The plant run by Vedanta arm Sterlite was sealed by the TN government on May 28, 2018, for environmental concerns. Thirteen people were killed when police opened fire during a protest against environmental pollution allegedly caused by the plant.
However, the CJI suggested that the state government can take over and produce oxygen itself. “Why don’t you fulfill your responsibility in manufacturing oxygen? We have absolutely no problem if the state take over the plant and produce oxygen. Just because you have problem with Vedanta, you will not manufacture oxygen? What kind of argument is this. We are not interested whether Vedanta or A, B, or C runs it. We are interested in ensuring oxygen is produced. The whole point of this exercise is that people in the country need it (oxygen). People are dying,” the apex court said, adding “the national assets of the country should be equally distributed among the citizens”.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta also agreed with to the top court’s view.
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