Companies

Apex Court allows Sterlite to produce oxygen

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on April 27, 2021

Security was beefed up in front of the Sterlite Copper factory on Tuesday after the Supreme Court gave permission for the operation of its oxygen plant   -  Rajesh N

Says its order driven by ‘national need’; clarifies that nod to operate oxygen plant will not create ‘equities’ in favour of firm

After a gap of nearly three years, Sterlite’s copper smelter plant in Tamil Nadu will see action, even if only to produce oxygen. This comes after the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Sterlite to start the oxygen plant, as it is a ‘national need’.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud passed the order after taking on record the Tamil Nadu government’s approval to reopen the plant for four months to produce oxygen.

“We are inclined to allow the prayer for permitting the operation of the oxygen plant on a standalone basis. We clarify that this shall not create any equities in favour of the applicant to demand or expect the running of the plant as a whole in the future, and the present order is being passed only in view of the serious national position that requires a ramping up of the oxygen supplies,” the order said.

Monitoring committee

The order was based on an application filed by the Vedanta group seeking permission to produce oxygen at the plant. It offered to produce 1,000 tonnes of oxygen daily and supply it to various States for free to meet the surge in demand to treat Covid-19 patients.

The Apex Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government to form a committee comprising the Thoothukudi District Collector; Superintendent of Police, District Environmental Engineer, Sub-Collector, and two government officials with knowledge of affairs. This committee, which will include two environmental experts, will monitor the operations at Vedanta’s plant.

The plant is to be operated only for the production of oxygen and for no other purpose. Sterlite would not under the present order be entitled to enter upon the copper smelting plant or any of the facilities

The company shall abide by all previous directions which have been issued by this court, save and except for the modification permitting it to operate the oxygen plant, the Court said.

Medical use?

Meanwhile, the moot question is whether the plant is capable of producing medical oxygen? When the issue of oxygen shortage was discussed in the Madras High Court, the Tamil Nadu Advocate General Vijay Narayan informed that the plant has 1,050-tonne capacity for oxygen production but most of its capacity is for production of gaseous oxygen for industrial use.

Vedanta has no compression and bottling plants to convert the gaseous oxygen to liquid oxygen and will need at least nine months to set up compression and bottling plants,the AG told the Court.

However, after the all-party meeting in Tamil Nadu on Monday resolved to permit oxygen production at the plant for four months, the AG in the afternoon informed the Court that Vedanta Sterlite agreed to increase the liquefaction of gaseous oxygen and expedite setting up the compressing and bottling plants.

‘Ás good as medical- grade’

A highly placed source in the know said that the plant can produce medical grade oxygen.

High quality industrial oxygen and medical grade oxygen are almost close and the same. Medical grade oxygen needs to be certified.

However, a timeline cannot be said on the production at the moment as the health of the plant has to be assessed, the source added.

Commenting on the Apex Court’s order, an official company statement said, “We have put together a plan towards achieving a safe, sustainable roadmap to activating our oxygen manufacturing facilities.”

The company is focused on swiftly meeting the critical need for oxygen in keeping with all necessary precautions and urgency.

“We are committed to making the entire production capacity available only for the purpose of producing medical-grade oxygen and are already working with experts on how best to resolve the logistics of dispatching this to critical areas as per the needs of the government,” the statement said.

Published on April 27, 2021

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