Green tribunal order poses fresh hurdles to Posco

NEW DELHI: Placing fresh hurdles before India’s biggest FDI project – Rs 50,000 crore Posco Integrated Steel Plant in Orissa – the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday suspended the final 2011 environmental order of the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh in favour of the Korean giant.

The NGT did not cancel the original environmental clearance of 2007, but prepared the ground for imposing tough new conditions on the project after a detailed and stringent fresh review.

The NGT order could increase problems for Posco as the company’s 2007 clearance for the port and the steel plant is slated to end in the middle of this year. The company will need to seek an extension – this time with the additional conditions that the new panel might impose. All environmental clearances for construction are valid for five years by which time the project is required to go functional.

The NGT order can only be challenged in the Supreme Court, and is bound to embarrass the government after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently told the Koreans on his visit to Seoul that some progress on the project had been made. He had said, “I recognize that sometimes our processes can be slow but there are effective mechanisms for resolution of problems and differences and a strong rule of law. The government is keen to move forward with the POSCO project and there is some progress in this regard.”

The order by the two judge green tribunal bench of C V Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Agarwal could be a huge setback for Posco and the Orissa government that has been pushing the case at all stages.

Reacting to the order, a senior Posco executive said, “We are a law abiding company. The court has asked the ministry to constitute a fresh panel. We will wait for the outcome and accept the ministry’s decisions.”

With the BJD government batting for the project, Congress in-charge for Odisha Jagdish Tytler said the party is against forcible acquisition of tribal land for industries, and the party was happy at the decision.

The suspension of the 2011 order has shrouded the project in doubt. The 2011 order had read, “The environmental clearance for the steel-cum-captive power plant is being accorded with 28 additional conditions over and above that stipulated in the original environmental clearance of July 2007.”

But NGT said, “A project of this magnitude particularly in partnership with a foreign country has been dealt with casually, without there being any comprehensive scientific data regarding the possible environmental impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts un-answered.”

Ramesh has set up a four-member committee under the ex-environment secretary Meena Gupta to review the case. Gupta had given a minority report in favour of the project even while pointing out several lacunae, but the other three had demanded the project’s cancellation. Ramesh went ahead and cleared the project after this in January, 2011, with some conditions.

The NGT noted that the environment ministry used only selective parts from the review panel report in favour of Posco disregarding key environment issues and took the view that Gupta had been biased in her approach. It has asked the environment ministry to set up another committee of specialists to look into all environment and forests issues of the case that were not addressed earlier under a comprehensive and tough set of terms.

All the elements of the project – the port, roads, housing, steel plant, mining and other ancillary works – would be assessed as a whole for their impact and not separately as done so far. The clearance will also be only for 4 million tones per annum and not the 12 million tones per annum steel production capacity that Posco claimed it claimed would finally be put up. If Posco wishes to do that it would have to go for the clearance process from scratch.

Once the environment ministry finalizes the new terms for the project it would have to set time-based targets for its conditions on Posco and a special group of experts to monitor it round the clock.

[Source – Times of India]

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