In a recent move to the Korean steel giant Posco’s proposed investment of $12 billion in Orissa, Supreme Court appointed Centrally Empowered Committee has recommended that the project should not be given piecemeal forest clearances. Instead, the entire plan — comprising a steel plant with captive mines and a port — should be reviewed as one single project for its ‘‘ecological significance’’ and rehabilitation plans.
It has recommended that the decision be taken only after ‘‘considering the ecological importance of the area, number of trees required to be felled, adequacy and effectiveness of the rehabilitation and resettlement plan for the project affected persons and benefits accruing to the state’’.It has told the court that ‘‘diversion of forest land for the plant, without taking a decision for linked uses, particularly the mining project, may not be in order’’
It had claimed in court that the port, steel plant and mines were not a continuous project on ground therefore should be delinked for clearance purposes. Company executives declined comment saying the matter was sub judice.
Posco’s plan is facing the following criticisms:
· Iron ore mining rights as it was feared that highgrade ore would be shipped out of India, which the Korean company denied.
· It has also faced problems with land acquisition leading to a delay in securing SEZ status.
· Recently, some of its top executives had to face public ire at the project site. Besides, mining rights are still pending.
On their part, the Centre and the Orissa government are according top priority to the project, fearing flight of capital and a dent to India’s image if Posco walked out.
To ensure that the investment stayed in India, the government has lined up railway, road and other infrastructure. While these may be imperative for the project to take off, the usual process undertaken by developers is to apply separately for the mandatory environmental and forest clearances.
Usually, the environment ministry, on the basis of the report of its Forest Advisory Committee, grants clearances. But in another ongoing case before the SC, the CEC had recently been empowered to review the forest clearances given by the ministry.
The CEC reporting to the apex court on the ministry clearance has recommended that, because the steel plant and the port alone require such a large forest patch to be diverted, an independent expert committee including NGO representatives should undertake a site visit in order to assess the impact of the cutting of such large number of trees (The steel plant alone is to come up by diverting 1,253 hectares of forest land and will require felling of 2.8 lakh trees).If the apex court accepts the recommendations, the Korean giant’s plans could run into rough weather. On the otherhand Apex court’s intervention may save the livelihood of large population of orissa.