Cement makers cheer as Supreme Court lifts ban

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Cement manufacturers breathed a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court of India lifted its ban on the use of petroleum coke in the cement and limestone industries. The order stated that “pet coke should be utilized only in industries where sulphur is absorbed in the manufacturing process, for example, [in the] cement industry, [and] gasification plants.”

The ban on pet coke first came into place in October 2017 in an attempt to address Delhi’s severe air pollution.

Sanjeev Kapoor, a partner at Khaitan & Co who represented the cement companies, told India Business Law Journal that the industry was one of very few where combustion and emissions are controlled, meaning that pet coke usage was not harmful. “Interestingly, the usage of pet coke, unlike coal, in the cement industry not only improves the efficiency of the manufacturing process, but also helps in the conservation of valuable natural resources like gypsum and limestone,” he said. “Since none of the cement industries are located in the National Capital Region, they were affected by the ban only when it was extended to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.”

In its exemption order, the Supreme Court said it had heard that the cement industry used pet coke in its kiln where limestone is ground and burned until it forms clinker. The court was satisfied that in this process of calcination, limestone would absorb sulphur, thereby minimizing emissions. Since the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had notified emission standards for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide for the cement industry, the court believed that allowing cement manufacturers to use pet coke was fair.

Upon issuing the order, Supreme Court Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur asked the government to set out guidelines for pet coke usage, regulating its sale and use to ensure complete accountability and traceability with no opportunity for leakage. Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, representing the government, confirmed that a system of regulation for the sale and use of pet coke would be brought into force within four weeks.

Khaitan & Co represented the Cement Manufacturers’ Association and Ambuja Cements on the matter. In addition to Kapoor, the team comprised partner Gaurav Juneja and associate partner Nawneet Vibhaw.

No other law firms were involved in the matter.