Chennai: The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on Friday ordered closure of the Tuticorin copper smelting plant of Sterlite Industries, part of Vedanta Resources group, with immediate effect, and power supply to the plant has been cut off, a company official said.
"The TNPCB issued the order to shut down the plant with immediate effect and the power utility on Friday night disconnected the power supply to the plant. We are in the process of stopping operations," an official told IANS over phone from Tuticorin, 600 km from here.
According to him, it will take around two days to fully shut down the plant. The plant's operations include the smelter, a refinery, and production of phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, and copper rods.
Presently the plant is run with a captive power unit.
The TNPCB order comes after the leakage of noxious gas from the plant March 23, 2013, leading to nausea and skin irritation among a section of people.
Subsequently, there were protests and the district administration had ordered an inquiry into the incident.
An official of TNPCB in Tuticorin said the order was issued by his head office. However, senior officials were not available for comments.
"The people here are celebrating the closure order. They are confident that the closure will be permanent one and not an interim measure," environmental activist Fatima Babu told IANS over phone from Tuticorin.
She said, "People may revolt against the plant if it is allowed to function after the March 23 incident. They have seen their loved ones suffer from nausea, sore throat and other problems inside their homes so the protests will be much more vigorous if the plant starts functioning again."
According to Babu, in some areas, plants died and flowers got discoloured.
Welcoming the TNPCB's closure order, MDMK's legal wing secretary G Devadoss told IANS, "We do not think the TNPCB's action would give a legal reprieve to Sterlite in the Supreme Court April 2. The company cannot cite the board's closure order and seek further time from the apex court."
The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its order on fate of the copper smelter plant April 2, 2013 in an appeal by Sterlite against the 2010 Madras High Court's order to shutdown the factory.
"We plan to make a mention about the closure order to the Supreme Court," V Prakash, advocate for National Trust for Clean Environment (NTCE), told IANS.
The NTCE had filed a batch of petitions on which the Madras High Court had delivered its judgement in 2010.
Meanwhile, MDMK's general secretary Vaiko, in a statement, thanked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for ordering closure in the interests of general public and to protect the environment.
For the past 17 years, MDMK has been fighting against the plant and Vaiko himself argued against the plant in the apex court.
From the start, the copper smelter plant was mired in controversy.
Originally the plant was planned in Maharastra and Goa but it faced severe opposition from the people there.
However, the AIADMK regime under Jayalalithaa gave a warm welcome to the project and allotted land at Tuticorin.
Ever since then the plant was in the eye of storm with Vaiko leading a protest against the project and later filing a case.