Sterlite plant row: TN rejects Central report on Tuticorin groundwater

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Chennai : The Tamil Nadu government has rejected a Central government-sponsored report on the groundwater contamination in Tuticorin, saying it "prejudices" the state government cases in various courts against the Sterlite copper smelter plant of Vedanta Ltd.

Tamil Nadu had ordered the closure of the Tuticorin plant, around 650 km from Chennai, following protests and the death of 13 persons in police firing on May 22.

The locals alleged the plant caused pollution and affected their health.

On a petition by Vedanta Ltd, the National Green Tribunal permitted access to the administrative office of the plant while barring access to the factory.

Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan in a letter on Friday, made available today, to the Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources said the state government was extremely perturbed that the Ministry chose to commission a study and obtain a report from Central Ground Water Board in Tuticorin without any intimation to the state government or to any statutory body including the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

"The state strongly feels that the report is motivated and has been prepared only to prejudice the government and TNPCB cases in various courts," Vaidyanathan said.

Citing the report, she said it appeared to support Sterlite and "is absolutely vague and without any support of empirical data."

"It does not appear to be made on any scientific basis and it is not known how the two scientists who have submitted the report have made such a vague and an unsubstantiated statement in the report," Vaidyanathan said.

The concluding paragraph of the report as quoted by her read: "It is to mention that the investigation team couldn't enter the premises of Sterlite Copper Industry for collection of representative samples from inside and outside of industry; because district authorities sealed the Sterlite Copper Plant following the government order to close down the plant permanently. Therefore, it can't be stated that Sterilte Industry is the only cause of pollution."

Vaidyanathan said on the basis of scientific studies, TNPCB has concluded that the level of pollution caused by the Sterlite Copper Smelting Plant has gravely affected the health and safety of residents in the locality, warranting closure of the industry.

"To safeguard the environment, a fundamental duty is imposed on the state by virtue of Article 48-A of the Constitution of India. Hence the government of Tamil Nadu ordered permanent closure of the industry," Vaidyanathan said.

She said the TNPCB has conducted detailed studies before ordering the closure of Sterlite copper smelter plant. The matter is sub judice before the National Green Tribunal, Madras High Court and the Supreme Court.