New Delhi: In a setback to Vedanta Ltd, the Supreme Court Monday set aside the NGT order that allowed opening of the mining major's Sterlite Plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, which was at the centre of massive protests over pollution concerns.
The top court, however, gave the liberty to the company to approach the high court against the closure orders of the Tamil Nadu government and its state pollution control board.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha said that if such a writ petition is filed by the company then it can seek an interim relief considering the fact that their plant at Tuticorin has been shut down since April 9, 2018.
It said Vedanta "may apply to the Chief Justice of the High Court for expeditious hearing of the writ petition".
At least 13 people were killed and several injured on May 22 last year when police had opened fire on a huge crowd of people protesting against environment pollution being allegedly caused by the factory.
The bench further said that while an appeal under the Air Act and the Water Act was pending before the appellate authority, the composite appeal was filed on June 22, 2018 before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the April 9, 2018 closure order of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).
It said the NGT could only hear the appeal from an order or decision of the appellate authority under provisions of Water Act or the Air Act.
"Obviously, since no order or decision had been made by the appellate authority under either the Water Act or the Air Act, any direct appeal against an original order to the NGT would be incompetent," the bench said.
It further said the NGT's order was clearly outside its statutory powers conferred by the Water Act, the Air Act, and the NGT Act.
The court also referred to laws in United Kingdom and said there are some laws which allowed appeals to leapfrog a forum but in India there are no such provisions which permits leapfrog appeals to be filed in the NGT.
The apex court restrained itself from going into the merit of the case and decided the preliminary objection of Tamil Nadu government that appeals filed by Vedanta Ltd against its orders before the NGT were not maintainable.
Dealing with three orders of TNPCB passed under provisions of the Water Act and the Air Act by which it refused to grant permission to start production at the plant, the bench said that the NGT did not had any jurisdiction to entertain the appeal directly.
The bench, while dealing with the third order dated May 28, 2018, passed under the Water Act under which direction were issued by the state government to the TNPCB to seal the unit and close the plant permanently, said that under the provisions of the Water Act, the NGT cannot have "judicially reviewed" it.
Referring to an earlier verdict of 2014, the bench said, "we are of the view that the NGT has no general power of judicial review akin to that vested under Article 226 of the Constitution of India possessed by the High Courts of this country".
The top court said that the NGT is only conferred appellate jurisdiction from an order passed in exercise of first appeal and where there is no such order, the NGT has no jurisdiction.
The apex court delivered the verdict on Tamil Nadu's appeal against the NGT's order of December 15, last year by which it had allowed reopening of the Tuticorin plant saying that the tribunal had "erroneously" set aside various orders passed by the TNPCB.