Panel probing POSCO divided, submits two reports (Lead)

October 18th, 2010 - 9:58 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) Uncertainty over the future of South Korean steel major POSCO’s $12 billion project in Orissa continued Monday with the environment panel, probing violation of laws, submitting two separate reports with divided opinions.

One report sought cancellation of environment clearance to the project while the other called for investigations afresh.

The two reports were submitted to the environment ministry - one by the panel chairman and former environment secretary Meena Gupta and the second by three other members of the panel — Urmila Pingle, Devendra Pandey and V. Suresh.

“There are a number of issues relating to environment clearance and coastal zone regulation which need to be looked at afresh,” said Gupta in her report.

“The ministry should consider doing this at the earliest by requiring a comprehensive environment impact assessment to be prepared both for the steel plant and for the port and asking the Expert Appraisal Committee concerned to examine various aspects, so that additional conditions, if required, can be imposed on the project before its construction starts,” she added.

Gupta, who was the senior-most bureaucrat in the ministry when the project was cleared in 2007, said: “On the issue of compliance with the environment and coastal zone regulation, it was found that the work to establish either POSCO’s steel plant or the captive port had not yet started. Therefore the issue of assessing compliance at this point of time was premature.”

While the other report, submitted by the three other members, found serious irregularities in the environment impact assessment process and recommended revoking of the environmental clearance given in 2007 for minor port and the steel plant.

Pointing out that the environment ministry overlooked serious violations of their own directions and the procedures prescribed by law for implementation of Forest Rights Act, the group said: “Imposing additional conditionalities as in the clarification given by the ministry in Jan, 2010 while allowing the clearance to stand does not remedy the illegalities.”

“The committee therefore strongly recommends that the final forest clearance referred above be revoked forthwith,” it said.

The ministry will take a call on the report during the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting Oct 25.

The environment ministry in August had increased the scope of investigation of the panel by asking it to review compliance with environmental protection and coastal zone regulations of the proposed POSCO site in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district.

Besides, the committee reviewed compliance with statutory provisions, approvals, clearances and permissions under various statutes, rules and notifications.

The ministry set up the Meena Gupta panel in July after the Orissa government opposed the report by a previous panel led by National Advisory Council member and former bureaucrat N.C. Saxena, which recommended stoppage of work pointing to violations including of the Forest Rights Act.

Based on this report, the ministry Aug 5 asked the state government to halt all work related to the project.

The South Korean firm POSCO (Pohang Iron and Steel Company) had signed a deal with the Orissa government in 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip, some 100 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, by 2016.

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

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

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

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