A judge, who is heading a division bench of the Madras High Court, Tuesday recused himself from hearing a plea moved by Sterlite company challenging a state government order closing its copper unit in Tuticorin district.
The hearing into the petition by the Vedanta group firm Sterlite Copper challenging the closure order was stalled, as Justice K K Sasidharan, the seniormost judge in the bench also comprising justices Sasidharan and P T Asha, recused himself.
When the plea came up before the bench, Justice Sasidharan said he had decided to recuse from hearing the case since he had passed an order in a connected matter while sitting at the Madurai bench of the high court restraining Sterlite from reopening the plant.
The matter was then mentioned before Chief Justice V K Tahilramani by counsel for Sterlite, for listing it before another division bench.
However, the Chief Justice informed them that such an order could not be passed in open court and that an order will be passed on the administrative side so that it may be listed before another bench.
Later, in the evening, the Chief Justice passed an order posting the case to be heard by a division bench comprising justices T S Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan.
The plant was ordered to be shut after 13 people, protesting against the alleged pollution caused due to the plant, died in police firing in May last year.
Vedanta has denied the allegations that its plant caused any pollution.
The Supreme Court had in April declined to entertain a petition filed by the Vedanta group seeking access to its closed smelter plant in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu to carry out maintenance activities.
The firm had also challenged in the apex court the Madras High Court”s order which had declined to give an early hearing to their interim application as well as the main petitions, which relate to the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB”s) order to shut down the plant.
“We are not here to control the high court,” a bench headed by Justice R F Nariman said after which the firm withdrew its plea.
The apex court earlier this year had directed the company to move the Madras High Court against the TNPCB order shutting the plant down.
The firm said the value of the Tuticorin plant was around Rs 3,000 crore and if the high court did not eventually allow it to restart operations, it would need to transport and assemble equipment to another location.
Sterlite, in its plea before the high court, challenged the TNPCB”s May 23, 2018 orders refusing renewal of consent to the plant as well as permanent closure, terming them as wholly illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires.
The apex court had earlier set aside the order of the National Green Tribunal allowing opening of the copper unit but gave the liberty to the company to approach the high court against the closure order.