Posco roadblock is not surprising

The ineptitude of the Union environment and forests ministry has led to the star-crossed $12 billion steel plant planned by South Korean steel giant Posco in Orissa getting derailed yet again.

Surely there are rules and norms in place on how and where land can be acquired, and that environmental clearance should be given for the entire project and not in bits and pieces.

The National Green Tribunal’s decision on Friday to suspend the environmental clearance granted 15 months ago was not, therefore, entirely unexpected. After protests some time ago a review committee was formed, and it is shocking that the ministry saw nothing wrong in making the secretary who granted clearance earlier head of the review panel.

The tribunal naturally saw this as a major vitiating factor. On top of this, of the four-member committee, only the secretary was in favour of clearance; the other three had a contrary view.

The second major flaw, the tribunal noted, was that clearance was given for only one-third of the 12 million tonnes/year project, and it directed MoEF to set up a fresh committee that can better appreciate environmental issues, set compliance timelines and set up a special panel to monitor progress and ensure compliance with the conditions set on a regular basis.

It is truly unfortunate that neither the environment ministry nor the state government appears to have learnt any lessons from the protests by tribals in different parts of Orissa some time ago, and still tries to hoodwink people. Whether it is Vedanta, Arcelor Mittal or Hindalco, all these major projects faced huge protests by tribals over land acquisition.

Given this precedent, one wonders on what basis the environment ministry believed it would be able to get away with a sham review of the half-baked permission it had given to Posco.

One can appreciate that the government is torn between two competing priorities: ensuring that industrial development can move forward quickly, and taking care that the concerns of millions of people who stand to lose their land and livelihoods are answered.

But instead of railroading such projects through, both the Centre and state governments, as well as other stakeholders like industry bodies, tribals and their representatives, should sit together and thrash out land acquisition issues in a transparent and ethical manner.

A bunch of bureaucrats sitting in Lutyens’ Delhi cannot decide on where to set up projects by simply pinpointing places on a map. India has changed considerably from the days of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; and it is no longer possible to dispossess hundreds and thousands of their land in the name of huge industrial and infrastructure projects, in return for meagre compensation or none at all.

[Source – Deccan Chronicle]

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