NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reprimanded the Odisha government for “blindly” favouring South Korean steel maker Posco in the grant of a captive iron ore mine in the state.
Hearing a petition by Bhubaneswar-based Geomin Minerals and Marketing, a bench of justices RM Lodha and AR Dave said the government overlooked other applicants for the Kandadhar mine in Sundergarh district as it was influenced by the “big” factor. “Is it the way of assessing comparative merit?” Justice Lodha asked Posco counsel Maninder Singh, who had arugued that the company was chosen because it was the “most meritorious” of all applicants.
“These are great natural resources. Their best use must be ensured. Merely because someone is big, other players can’t be disallowed. That means no one else can play. The big will become bigger, and the bigger (will become) biggest.”
The judge said comparative merit has several aspects. “How many applicants were there?” he asked. When Posco counsel said 227, Justice Lodha said: “In that case each has to be evaluated and examined on some objective parameters. If the umpire becomes obsessed with the big players, how can a match be played evenly?”
In its plea, Geomin has argued that Odisha could not have granted a prospecting licence to Posco because its applications, filed 14 years earlier regarding an area that overlaps with the site of Posco’s plant, were still to be disposed of.
The company had challenged the decision in high court, which on July 14, 2010 cancelled Posco’s licence and asked the state to reconsider all applications again. Unhappy with the ruling that stopped short of granting the licence to it, Geomin moved the apex court.
“From the high court judgement, it seems as if Posco is the blue-eyed boy of the state and, hence, been favoured,” Justice Lodha said, as Posco’s counsel tried to explain that the company’s port-based steel plant at Paradip would set a new global benchmark by producing 12 million tonne of steel in an eco-friendly manner. “Big was not the only criteria that was considered,” the counsel said, referring to the thousands of jobs that the company would create in the state and the money it has invested so far.
The judges, however, seemed not satisfied. The state would have to explain a lot of things when its turn comes to defend its action, the bench said, while fixing January 17 as the date for next hearing.
[Source — The Economic Times]