India court panel extends hearing on Vedanta smelter case

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

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s environmental court said it will resume hearing Vedanta Ltd’s case on Monday to decide whether to re-open the company’s copper smelter, which was closed earlier this year after 13 people died when police fired on protesters.

Last week, a panel of experts set up by India’s National Green Tribunal, informally known as the environmental court, said authorities in Tamil Nadu state had failed to comply with procedures before shutting down the smelter.

On Friday, C.S. Vaidyanathan, the lawyer for the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, questioned the power of the expert panel to decide on whether the ban on the smelter in the southern town of Thoothukudi be lifted.

State authorities permanently shut down the Tamil Nadu plant after police fired on protesters calling for the closure of the plant in May over concerns it was polluting their air and water.

Vedanta’s lawyer Aryama Sundaram told the court the company planned to invest 1 billion rupees ($14.15 million) to build hospitals and schools for people living close to the smelter.

The Vedanta plant, however, is unlikely to resume production anytime soon because the Tamil Nadu state government will likely appeal to the Supreme Court if it loses the case in the environmental court, sources said.

The smelter is one of the two largest in India. Resuming production is crucial to Vedanta as it faces rising costs and the impact of a slowing economy on demand for metals and energy.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Tom Hogue

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