SC to hear Vedanta plea to let Thoothukudi oxygen plant work on

Vedanta Ltd has moved the Supreme Court seeking its nod to continue operations, beyond July 31, of its copper plant in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi for production of medical oxygen.

Senior advocate Harish Salve mentioned the matter before a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, seeking urgent hearing. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Tamil Nadu government, opposed the petition stating that the state government had sufficient quantity of liquid oxygen. “We oppose this. We already have enough oxygen,” he contended.

The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing next week.

On April 27, the top court had allowed Vedanta to operate its oxygen production unit, on a standalone basis, at the Thoothukudi copper plant till July 31. The company had contended then it wanted to help the national cause amid the second wave, when the country was in dire need of oxygen for Covid patients.

The Tamil Nadu government had sealed the plant run by Vedanta arm Sterlite on May 28, 2018, due to environmental concerns. During a protest against environmental pollution allegedly caused by the plant, thirteen people were killed when police opened fire.

The top court had then passed the order saying that plant can function against the backdrop of national need for oxygen, and it would not create any equity in favour of Vedanta.

It had said the nation must stand together in this hour of crisis. “There cannot be political bickering in this court. We have to support nation as a court. It is a national calamity,” the bench had said.

The top court had asked the Tamil Nadu government to form a committee comprising the Thoothukudi Collector, Superintendent of Police, District Environmental Engineer, Sub-Collector and two government officials with knowledge of the matter to overlook the functioning of the plant. A plea by Vedanta challenging the closure of the copper plant in May 2018 is pending adjudication separately.

Meanwhile, Vedanta Ltd on Friday said its oxygen plant will start winding-off of operations.

It said that the start of winding-off operations on Friday is done to allow enough time for the defrosting process before the date indicated by the Supreme Court.

“Our application for extension of the facility for a period of 6 months, is listed to be heard by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on August 6, 2021,” it said.

As per the apex court’s order on April 27, 2021, Vedanta has completed the three month duration granted by the court to operate the oxygen plant until July 31, 2021.

The company said, till date it has supplied 2,132 tons of medical grade oxygen and has a stock of 134 ton liquid medical oxygen.