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India's Supreme Court clears way for reopening Vedanta's copper smelter

India's Supreme Court clears way for reopening Vedanta's copper smelter
FILE PHOTO: Police stand gurad 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/File Photo   -   Copyright  Reuters Staff(Reuters)
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By Sudarshan Varadhan

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Vedanta <VDAN.NS> to reopen its south Indian copper smelter by refusing to stay an order from the country’s environmental court, the company’s lawyer said.

The government of Tamil Nadu state ordered the smelter shut permanently in May after protests against alleged pollution at the plant in the city of Thoothukudi during which the police killed 13 demonstrators.

In December, India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) revoked the state decision to shut the plant leading Tamil Nadu to appeal the NGT ruling.

The Supreme Court refused to issue a so-called stay halting the NGT’s decision, said Vedanta Legal Counsel Aryama Sundaram in a voice recording sent by Whatsapp to reporters by the company’s public relations firm Brand-comm after the high court session.

Though the court refused to stay the NGT order, the court did admit Tamil Nadu’s appeal before the high court, allowing that case to proceed further, Yogesh Khanna, a lawyer for the state told Reuters.

“The court will continue to hear the case even though it has not stayed the earlier order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT),” Khanna said.

Additionally, the Supreme Court did issue a stay halting an order by the Madras High Court that barred Vedanta from reopening the Thoothukudi smelter until the Madras court hears a case challenging the NGT’s verdict, said Sundaram.

“As it stands today, the order of the NGT stays and has to be complied with by both the parties,” he said in the recording.

Vedanta will now file an application with the Tamil Nadu pollution regulator seeking consent to operate the smelter, said P. Ramnath, the chief executive of Vedanta’s Indian copper business Sterlite Copper which operates the plant.

“It is difficult to say when we will be able to reopen the smelter,” Ramnath said.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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