Environmental clearance for Sun Pharma expansion in Vedanthangal bird sanctuary sparks row

Reported by

Hariprasad Radhakrishnan

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Radhika Chatterjee

Updated by

Published on

June 22, 2022

June 22, 2022

Updated on

June 22, 2022

Location of Conflict

Sathamai

Chengalpattu

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Manufacturing

(

Wildlife Sanctuary

)

People Affected by Conflict

455

Households Affected by Conflict

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

65

ha

Starting Year

1998

State

Tamil Nadu

Sector

Industry

On 31st March, 2022, the Union Ministry of Environment granted environmental clearance (EC) to Sun Pharma Industries Limited for increasing its production capacity from 25.5 TPM to 134.082 TPM. The move has come under criticism from activists and locals as the plant is located inside the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu. The sanctuary consists of a main lake area spread over 29.51 hectares, and additional surrounding zone of 5 Kilometre.

The EC has come at a time when a case alleging pollution by Sun Pharma is pending at the National Green Tribunal (NGT). M. Yuvan, an environmentalist with Madras Naturalist Society, told LCW that the ongoing case at the NGT is currently contesting the claim that the plant has zero liquid discharge. It may be noted that a private study conducted by Chennai Climate Action Group found the presence of toxic chemicals like Toluene in water bodies within the sanctuary.

Sun Pharma's plans for expansion first became public in early 2020. The Tamil Nadu government declined Sun Pharma's request for expansion in 2020. But the government simultaneously announced plans for reducing the surrounding zone of the sanctuary from an earlier 5 Kilometre to 3 Kilometre. If implemented, this would have led to a 40 percent reduction in the size of the sanctuary, opening the denotified parts for commercial use. It would also have facilitated the expansion of Sun Pharma, as the company would then won't have to seek required environmental clearances for its expansion. This decision faced widespread opposition from environmentalists and locals living in and around the sanctuary. It was scrapped a year later.

Meanwhile a petition challenging Sun Pharma's expansion plans was filed in the NGT in 2020 by Meenava Thanthai Nala Sangam, a civil society organisation based in Tamil Nadu. In June 2020, the Tribunal ordered the setting up of a joint expert committee to probe the alleged violations. This committee submitted its report in November 2020 stating, that a number of volatile organic compounds namely Toluene, Chlorobenzene, M-xylene and Naphthalene were found in the samples collected from monitoring wells, indicating that the groundwater within the plant premises was contaminated. But they did not find any contamination of surface water sources. The committee also calculated an interim compensation of Rs 58.2 lakh for the environmental damage caused by the industry.

Sun Pharma was granted the environment clearance for its expansion plans by the Union Environmental Ministry in March 2022. But the clearance was made conditional upon the unit receiving wildlife clearance from the National Board for Wildlife, as it is located 3.72 km away from the main lake area of the sanctuary. Stanley Hebzon Singh, the advocate for the petitioners, told LCW they would fight the EC at the NGT as a separate cause of action. "We had highlighted major violations in our application. But the committee did not find any such water pollution. We now have to file an objection to this." In May 2022, NGT admitted a plea against the environmental clearance granted to Sun Pharma's expansion plans and directed the maintenance of status quo.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand to cancel the project

Opposition against environmental degradation

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common and Private

Type of Common Land

Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

202.36

Type of investment:

Investment Expected

Year of Estimation

2022

Page Number In Investment Document:

4

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972
Section 29 [Prohibition of destruction of habitat of wild animals in a sanctuary without a permit]
Electricity Act, 2003
Section 7 [Persons carrying out industrial operations and processes shall not discharge, emit, or permit to be discharged or emitted environmental pollutants in excess of the prescribed standard limits]
Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
Para 2 [Requirement of prior environmental clearance in case of new projects and expansion of existing projects]; Schedule, 5(f) [Synthetic organic chemicals industry projects to apply for environmental clearance]
Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006
Para 2 [Requirement of prior environmental clearance in case of new projects and expansion of existing projects]; Schedule, 5(f) [Synthetic organic chemicals industry projects to apply for environmental clearance]
Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
Section 21 [No person shall establish or operate any industrial plant in an air pollution control area without the consent of State Board]
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Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Violation of environmental laws

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Pending

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench

Case Number

Original Application No. 88 of 2020 (SZ)

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

On May 25, 2022, the NGT noted that the Joint Committee Report mentioned Sun Pharma had obtained consent for the period of 2006-2007, and then in 2020. The Report is not clear about whether consent was obtained for the period in between. Further, whether Sun Pharma had obtained environmental clearance for a new product they had been manufacturing was also not clear from the Report. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board along with the MOEFCC were asked to clarify such details, as well as whether Sun Pharma was situated within the Bird Sanctuary itself. The matter is slated to be heard on July 11, 2022.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

No items found.

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

No

Reported Details of the Violation:

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Community-based participatory research

Media-based activism/alternative media

Campaigns (grassroots organisations/press releases/media)

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Union Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, National Board for Wildlife

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Sun Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Chennai Climate Action Group, Meenavar Nala Sangam (Fishers' Welfare Association)

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
A view of the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary

A view of the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary

Image Credit:  

Wikimedia Commons

A view of the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary

Image Credit:  

Documented By

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Reviewed By

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Updated By

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Edited By

Text LinkLand Conflict Watch
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