PMO takes stock of POSCO project with Orissa Government

Amid growing speculations that Pohang Steel Company’s (POSCO) ambitious 12 million tonnes proposed steel plant in Orissa may fail to take off as the State Government has failed to acquire land for the project, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scheduled three-day visit to South Korea later this week, his office on Monday summoned top Steel Ministry as well as State officials to take stock of the impasse.

The PMO’s concern seems evident as the delay in the project, has stood out as a sour thumb in the otherwise cordial relations between New Delhi and Seoul. The Prime Minister, who is leaving for Seoul on March 25, is scheduled to meet South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, during his participation in the second Nuclear Summit there.

According to Steel Ministry sources, the meeting conducted by Principal Secretary in the PMO Pulok Chatterjee was attended by Steel Secretary PK Misra along with his other senior colleagues from Udyog Bhavan, as well as Orissa Government’s Principal Resident Commissioner SK Bhargav, as the State’s Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik could not make it due to the ongoing Italian tourists hostage crisis there.

The PMO, according to sources, took stock of the ongoing impasse which has hit the project, triggered mainly due to protests by local villagers, who are not ready to give land for setting up of the steel plant near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district of the State. The proposed project requires 4,004 acres of land while only about 2,000 acres has till date been acquired. The project work has been on a standstill after violence erupted between pro-Posco and anti-Posco groups on November 24, 2011.

Sources said that Chatterjee is learnt to have expressed serious concern over the delay in the project, especially in the light of the fact that despite receiving Environment Ministry’s green signal a year back, the Orissa Government has failed to show any progress in the project due to non-compliance by local villagers.

It is learnt that the State government officials gave a status report on the project to the PMO officials and no concrete assurance could be extracted from them as to when the issue of land acquisition would be resolved.

South Korea, which has been asking New Delhi from time to time to get the project started in Orissa, has been feeling anxious about the future of the project and, therefore, Singh’s visit to Seoul, could hold a lot a of significance, sources added.

According to a source close to the development, with uncertain reports emanating out of Orissa, South Korean Government would be keen to seek a firm commitment from the Prime Minister about the future of the project.

Planned in 2005, when POSCO signed the MoU with Orissa Government for setting up the ambitious steel plant, it first got stalled after the Environment Ministry delayed the green clearance to it. However last year when the project finally received the go ahead from the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, it has been stuck due to law and order and land acquisition issues.

The State Government has even failed to renew the MoU, which expired almost a year back, despite repeated reminders from POSCO officials. In fact, on March 14, an inter-ministerial group meeting was scheduled to be held here under the chairmanship of Misra, where the project was to be discussed. However, it got postponed.

With nothing concrete emanating from Monday’s meeting, a lot would hinge on what kind of assurance the Prime Minister would be able to give to South Korean President, when both of them would meet later this week.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had attended the ‘At Home’ organised at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi in honour of Lee in 2010 when he had visited the country as chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations. The issue had also figured in the talks between President Pratibha Patil and Lee in July 2011. Lee had requested Patil at that time to extend all necessary cooperation for establishment of the mega steel project.

[Source – The Pioneer]

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