New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday restrained for ten days the Andhra Pradesh government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) from disbursing compensation amount of Rs 50 crore, deposited by LG Polymers India Ltd, among victims of the gas leak that had taken place at its Visakhapatnam plant on May 7 in which 12 persons, including a minor, had died.
A bench comprising Justices U U Lalit, M M Shantanagoudar and Vineet Saran, in the proceedings held through video-conferencing, took note of the submissions of the South Korean firm that its plea for de-sealing of the plant and the permission to take away the documents to prepare for inquiries into gas-leak are still pending hearing in the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
"Considering the fact that the initial order (of NGT) is presently under challenge, we pass ad-interim direction staying the operation of the directions issued by the National Green Tribunal in para 40 of its order (on Rs 50 cr compenation) dated June 01, for next ten days," the bench said.
The top court heard senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi for the company and directed the NGT and government authorities not to distribute the compensation money for the time being and requested the Chief Justice of the High Court to hear the pleas of the company next week.
During the hearing, Rohatgi assailed the order on sealing of the factory and the direction of the High Court that its directors should deposit their passports.
He also referred to the apex court’s earlier order allowing LG Polymers India Ltd to send its 30 employees, including two general staffers, to maintain "round the clock safety measures" at the plant.
Rohatgi said that despite the order, the District Collector did not allow two of its lawyers from entering into the premises to access materials so that the company can respond to various committees.
On May 8, the NGT had imposed an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on the firm and sought response from the Centre and others in the gas leak incident saying "there appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions".
The top court, on May 26, had allowed LG Polymers India Ltd to send its 30 employees to maintain "round the clock safety measures" at its sealed plant in Visakhapatnam.
It was hearing the appeal of the LG Polymers against the May 22 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court directing that “the premises of the company shall be completely seized and no one be allowed to enter into the premises including the Directors of the Company.”
The High Court had said that nobody, except the members of the committees appointed by the state government, will be allowed to visit the plant and it also ordered that the directors of the firm will not leave the country without its nod.
While permitting the firm to send its employees inside the plant, the apex court had considered the submissions of the company that the complete sealing of plant will have “tremendous adverse consequences and impact” as technical members of the firm were required to be there to ensure that the temperature of the plant does not go beyond 25 degree Celsius which is necessary to maintain safety standards.
As many as 12 people, including a minor, were killed when styrene vapours leaked from the LG Polymerss plant on May 7, while several hundred fell ill after inhaling the poisonous chemical at R Venkatapuram near Visakhapatnam.
The apex court, on May 19, had asked LG Polymers India to approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to raise the issue regarding setting up of multiple committees to probe the May 7 gas leakage from its plant in Visakhapatnam.
The NGT had set up a five-member committee, headed by former Andhra Pradesh High Court judge Justice B Seshasayana Reddy, to probe into the incident in the plant and submit a report before May 18.