Posco’s $12 bn Orissa project gets conditional nod (Second Lead)

Monday, January 31, 2011

NEW DELHI/BHUBANESWAR - The environment ministry Monday gave conditional clearance to South Korean steel major Posco’s $12 billion project in Orissa, the biggest foreign direct investment in the country. While the Orissa government welcomed the move, environmentalists termed it “unfortunate” and said they would stage protests.

Posco is an integrated steel, mining and port project and separate clearances had to be given to all three. It also comprises a captive power plant to provide electricity to the proposed steel plant.

The ministry, in its 50-page order, imposed 28 additional conditions as part of the environmental clearance for the steel-cum-captive power plant, and slapped 32 conditions while according environmental clearance to the captive minor port.

“Undoubtedly, projects like Posco have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country but at the same time, laws on environment and forests must be implemented,” said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

On the issue of transfer of land for the project, coming up in coastal Jagatsinghpur district, about 100 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, the ministry has asked the state government to give a categorical assurance that no traditional forest dwellers are dependent on or cultivating land in the Posco project area.

Welcoming the nod, Posco-India managing director G.W. Sung said the firm was committed to create “sustainable livelihood opportunities” for those affected.

“We are committed to take sustainable green initiatives and effective measures for conserving the land and marine environment of the area. We are also committed to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for the project affected people through implementing R&R (resettlement and rehabilitation) package sincerely,” Sung said in a statement.

The conditions for environmental clearance for the steel plant include: following national ambient air quality standards, carrying sustainability study of water requirement, green area within the plant to be 25 percent of total area, making risk and disaster management plans, and devoting two percent of net annual profit to corporate social responsibility.

The clearance conditions for the captive minor port include: no construction in the high erosion zone, taking shoreline protection measures, submitting a detailed Marine Environment Conservation Plan, and to compensate the loss of fishing activity.

The ministry said it will closely monitor the imposed conditions. It had earlier put the project on hold, citing violations of environment and forest laws.

There was much pressure on the environment ministry to clear the project. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had last year met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the clearance delay.

The Orissa government said it would soon begin acquiring land for the giant project.

“Although it (the approval) came late, we welcome the decision. The Posco project is important not only for Orissa but also for the whole country as it will provide employment and boost economic activities. We will begin the land acquisition process as soon as possible,” Steel and Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty told IANS.

But environmentalists and social activists called the ministry’s decision “unfortunate”.

The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been spearheading the movement against the project, said it will launch a nationwide agitation against the order.

“We will take the protest to New Delhi. All those who have been against displacement will join us. We will jointly launch a nationwide agitation,” PPSS spokesperson Prasant Paikray told IANS.

Said environmental lawyer Ritwik Dutta: The basic issue here is that the environment ministry may put as many conditions as it wants, but the compliance level is very poor.

Posco requires 4,004 acres, mostly government land, for its project. Of the land earmarked, 2,900 acres is forest land.

Thousands of villagers have been opposing the project, saying it will displace them from their homelands and ruin their betel leaf farms.

Posco and the state government, however, maintain the project will bring prosperity and employment to the impoverished region.

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