Agitation apart, Posco steel embroiled in a host of legal tangles

Paradip: Legally speaking, the state government cannot acquire lands for the Posco project, nor can construction work be started at the designated site as the project has no environment clearance in hand, official sources said.

“The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, forbids activity of any nature at the site without environmental clearance,” a senior official in the industry department said on Wednesday, quoting the existing law. He described the latest episode of the state government demolishing betel vines of farmers in the proposed plant site as ‘highly illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’.

The official cited the action taken by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) against Vedanta’s Lanjigarh alumina refinery to bring home the point. “The MoEF suspended the refinery’s expansion plan from 1 mtpa to 6 mtpa on the ground that it had started construction work prior to getting the EC. The ministry had directed the company to conduct public hearing, one of the pre-conditions for getting EC, for its expansion plan. Though the company complied with the directive, the ministry rejected the public hearing citing the same reason,” the official pointed out. “There cannot be a different rule for the much-hyped Posco project. It has landed in the same situation, warranting fresh preparations for the project to come up,” the official said.

Among other problems plaguing the 12 mtpa capacity mega steel plant, billed as India’s largestFDI, apart from the eight-year-old agitation by villagers unwilling to part with their lands, the forest clearance granted to the project has been challenged in court. The government’s eagerness to grant mining lease to Posco has also been pending judicial scrutiny too. It is being questioned why Posco should be given iron ore (present market price of which is nearly Rs 7,000 per ton) just in lieu of royalty that comes about Rs 700 per ton. Availability of water and discharge of waste materials from the plant are among other issues chasing the project. A host of facilities like SEZ status promised to the South Korean venture, something not given to Indian steel makers, have also raised eyebrows in many circles.

The Posco project, which seeks to acquire 4004 acres of land on a cyclone and erosion-prone sea coast where mangrove forest, sand dunes, casuarinas trees save human lives, help generate sweet water underground, beside being prime sources of income for large number of people, got the blow in March last year when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the final EC given to it on January 31, 2011. The tribunal asked the MoEF to make a ‘fresh review of the project’.

The NGT verdict exposed the myopic outlook of officials to oblige Posco by throwing laws and public feelings to the winds. The judgement revealed that the MoEF had given environment clearance for 12 mtpa capacity plant on the basis of environment impact assessment (EIA) done for only 4 mtpa capacity. The NGT said ’12mtpa steel plant is an uncertain contingency’ and directed the MoEF to ‘consider optimizing the total land requirement for 4 mtpa steel plant proportionately instead of allotting the entire land’.

“In large projects like Posco, the EIA right from the beginning should be assessed for the full capacity and EC granted on this basis,” the tribunal order said. “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme of the process of issuing final order reveals that 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 impact. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts unanswered,” the NGT said. “It is unfortunate that the government instead of addressing the problems for such a project within the ambit of law has chosen to let loose a reign of terror with armed police forces on the hapless villagers to vacate the area,” said a senior official at Jagatsinghpur district collector’s office. “We are undertremendous┬ápressure to tame the agitating villagers,” he said.

[Source — Times of India]


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