India Court allows Sterlite smelter to resume production #WTFnews


Read more on: INDIA | STERLITE | SMELTER | Court | Delhi | Imports | Sterlite Industries | New Delhi

By Krishna N Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s largest copper smelter is likely to restart within a week, after a court on Friday gave a conditional go-ahead, ending a two-month-long shutdown that has squeezed domestic supply and boosted imports.

The smelter run by Sterlite Industries , a unit of London-listed Vedanta , can resume operations overseen by a court-appointed panel, Justice Swatanter Kumar of a fast-track court, the National Green Tribunal, said.

“A balance has to be struck between environmental interests and sustainable economic development,” the judge said, adding that the panel would determine if the smelter required additional anti-pollution equipment.

The court will issue a final order after July 10, he added, to follow Friday‘s interim order.

Sterlite’s smelter is expected to resume production in about a week, a company statement said. Earlier, the head of its copper business P. Ramnath had suggested a restart in two weeks, with supply to customers commencing in another week.

The smelter, which uses imported concentrates, produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month, or more than half of India’s total production. Nearly half its output goes to China.

Its closure had made available to the market an extra 3,000 tonnes of copper concentrates each day.

“If the closure had been prolonged for some more time it would have led to a steep increase for premiums,” said a physical trader based in Singapore, who has Indian clients. “Already we had started getting copper cathode enquiries.”

Most of India’s exports of copper go to China, the world’s biggest consumer of the metal, which used around 9 million tonnes last year, well in excess of India’s annual consumption of around 600,000 tonnes.

“The restart will ease the tight supply situation across Asia, but particularly in India, where the domestic market has been suffering because of a shortage in cathode,” said another metals trader based in Singapore.

The shutdown of the Sterlite smelter helped drive up copper premiums, which rose in Shanghai to a high of $140 a tonne over cash London Metal Exchange copper, the trader added.

A long-arranged shutdown of Hindalco Industries Ltd’s Birla smelter on May 7 also cut tonnage to the market. That smelter, which produces around 30,000 tonnes a month, will reopen early in June, the company has said.

India’s cable makers faced a severe shortage of copper and potential manufacturing delays after the closure of the country’s two biggest copper smelters.

Sterlite, whose parent Vedanta is controlled by billionaire Anil Agarwal, has been waiting for government clearances to double the capacity of its smelter to 800,000 tonnes a year.

Its smelter, in the coastal town of Tuticorin near the southern tip of India, was shut on March 30 after residents complained of emissions that led to breathing problems.

Environmental issues and other concerns, including land acquisition, have enmeshed several global companies’ plans for big-ticket investments in India, ranging from South Korea’s POSCO to units of Vedanta.

Sterlite’s smelter has long been the target of protesters and politicians who call it a risk to local fisheries.

Several cases have been filed against the company since the plant started in 1996. In a different case, India’s top court last month fined Sterlite about $18 million for breaking environmental laws at the smelter.

(Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Melanie Burton in SINGAPORE; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Keiron Henderson)

Stop cutting trees for Posco plant: tribunal


Livemint

National green tribunal says large number of trees are being cut without permission of any competent authority
  
First Published: Tue, May 28 2013. 11 39 PM IST
http://www.livemint.com/rf/Image-621×414/LiveMint/Period1/2013/05/29/Photos/Copy%20of%20posco–621×414.jpg” />
Environmental clearance for the project was suspended by the same tribunal in March last year. Photo: Reuters
Updated: Tue, May 28 2013. 11 53 PM IST
New Delhi/Mumbai: The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday stepped in to stop felling of trees for the controversial Posco steel project in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district, posing another challenge to the South Korean company’s much-delayed $12 billion plant.
According to a report by PTI earlier this month, the state government has been able to acquire 2,630 acres of land against the initial requirement of 2,700 acres for setting up the 8 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) plant.
Environmental clearance for the project was suspended by the same tribunal in March last year.
“It is undisputed that as of today the project proponent does not have environmental clearance,” the bench headed by justice Swatanter Kumar said on Tuesday.
A petition filed by activist Prafulla Samantray brought to the tribunal’s notice the violation by the steel company in Orissa.
“It is contended before us now that large number of trees are being felled/cut by the project proponent without permission of any competent authority,” the bench’s order said.
Samantray alleged that the Orissa government was in collusion with the company and around 200,000 trees have been cut despite the suspension of the environmental clearance.
“This shows that the Orissa government is more concerned about the interests of the corporate and not the interest of its people. These trees are very important for our area as they prevent us from cyclones in the area,” he said.
The tribunal’s decision is significant as Posco was violating the earlier NGT order while felling trees in the area, said Rahul Choudhary, advocate for the petitioner.
“This talks about the company and how they are violating the law of the land. The country should make sure that they consider damage to environment because of a plant, instead of just looking at the investment that the company brings,” he said.
The tribunal added that the suspension of the environmental clearance will remain in force till an order is passed by the environment ministry based on the recommendations of a committee headed by former bureaucrat K. Roy Paul that was set up last year to look into this issue.
The South Korean company denied any violations in a posting on its website.
“Posco reiterates that it has never violated any human rights or environment norms in Orissa and also assures all its precious shareholders and stakeholders that Posco has committed itself to protect human rights through ethical practice,” the company said.
Posco India’s general manager, corporate relations, I.G. Lee, did not answer his phone or reply to a text message seeking comments.
Earlier, Lee had said the company was awaiting the handing over of 2,700 acres of land by the state government to start building its steel plant.
According to the original plan, the company needs 4,004 acres in an area with sandy soil in parts where villagers grow nuts and betel vines.
Meanwhile, an independent committee set up to safeguard Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ethical guidelines has said that Norway’s oil fund, which has invested in Posco’s steel plant and is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, has no strategy for dealing with possible violations of human rights by the companies in which it invests.
The committee further said that the fund was not doing enough to protect against human rights breaches.
PTI and Reuters contributed to this story.
  
First Published: Tue, May 28

 

Green tribunal halts land acquisition for POSCO


Author(s):
Anupam Chakravartty
Issue Date:
2013-5-28

South Korean steel giant acquired 1,093 ha without waiting for environmental clearance

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) which suspended the environmental clearance to the controversial POSCO steel project in Odisha‘s Jagatsinghpur district last year, has once again stepped in to halt illegal work on the controversial project. In the past fortnight, Korean steel manufacturer POSCO, aided by state government of Odisha, acquired 2,700 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) of agricultural land, including betel vines, in Jagatsinhpur district without waiting for the mandatory environmental clearance. NGT, on Tuesday, took cognisance of the violations by the steel company, which were brought to its notice through a petition filed by activist Prafulla Samantray, and asked the state government and POSCO to stall any acquisition till the environmental clearance is issued for the project. Samantaray and others stated in the petition that since POSCO does not have a valid environmental clearance, the present levelling, trench work and tree felling by the project proponent cannot be carried out.

NGT, while hearing Samantray’s petition, said that the company will not acquire any land before the dispute on the environmental clearance is resolved. NGT had suspended the environmental clearance granted to the project on March 30, last year [1]. At that time, the tribunal had asked an expert committee under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to review the project afresh. The committee headed by former bureaucrat K Roy Paul, in its report, sought for a complete design change of the plant [2].

While POSCO had agreed to reduce the land requirement for the project, private agricultural land was not acquired till recently because of protests by local residents. However, towards the end of April, the plant authorities aided by the state and local administration started land acquisition, leading to violence and an incident of bomb explosion, which killed four protesters http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/bomb-kills-4-protesters-posco-stee… [3]. Paul, while submitting the report in October, had said that many important conditions with regard to the grant for fresh environmental clearance had not been fulfilled. On May 28, NGT found that important components for the grant of environmental clearance are yet to be completed, while the authorities began acquiring private agricultural land.

“The state government is yet to formulate a conversion policy for changing forest to industrial areas while it went ahead with cutting trees and destroying betel vines for the POSCO plant. The NGT’s order is a big relief for us as it has directed the state government to bring out a notification to formulate policy for the conversion of such land,” said Samantray.

International censure

On the other hand, at the international level, POSCO’s funders have been questioned for sponsoring the plant in Odisha, where several human rights violations have taken place in the name of land acquisition for the plant. On Monday, Norway’s National Contact Point (NCP) – a body that oversees the implementation Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development guidelines – has pulled up the country’s $740 billion oil fund for aiding POSCO plant. NCP said Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages the oil fund on behalf of the Norwegian government, has refused to cooperate with the OECD Contact Point in its assessment of the fund’s investments in POSCO. “NBIM has violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and it lacks a strategy for identifying and handling possible violations of human rights in the companies they invest,” NCP said in a statement on Monday.

The investigation was triggered by a complaint from several organizations about the 12 million tonnes per annum capacity steel plant planned by POSCO, which will displace 20,000 people physically and leave them without any means of living. The complaint to the local OECD contact points of South Korea, Norway and Holland was made by the non-governmental organizations Lok Shakti Abhiyan in India, KTNC Watch in South Korea, Fair Green and Global Alliance in the Netherlands and Norway’s Forum for Environment and Development. These organisations have claimed the stakeholders or funders should have used their influence to prevent or mitigate the damage caused by the human rights violations during the acquisition for the plant [4].

NBIM, in a reply to the allegations stated that the bank was awaiting the conclusions of the investigations against POSCO in South Korea. NBIM replied to NCT that “the OECD guidelines do not apply to minority shareholders, and for that reason refused to give answers to our written questions,” said Hans Petter Graver, chairperson of the Norwegian Contact Point. Graver in a release said that the guidelines do apply; the question is how they apply for an investor with numerous small shareholder positions.

The Norwegian Oil Fund has a 0.9% stake in the POSCO plant; the stake is valued at US $245 million. In Holland, the Dutch pension fund ABP and its pension administrator APG March, which is one of the funders, have agreed to cooperate with the local OECD Contact Point, according to the release by National Contact Point.

 


 

Tension mounts in Posco project area as villagers oppose work


 

BHUBANESWAR, May 10, 2013, The Hindu

 

 Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti activists stage a demonstration

Tension prevailed in the Posco project area in Jagatsinghpur district on Thursday as hundreds of agitated villagers came out to oppose digging of a trench for construction of a boundary wall along the land acquired for the proposed steel plant.

The digging of the trench and demarcation work was carried out by the administration at Mangalapada, Gobindpur and Patana Haat despite the people’s opposition.

Two betel vineyards were demolished and more than 150 trees were felled by the administration even as the villagers staged a demonstration under the banner of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti demanding that the work be stopped immediately. The betel vine owners were paid compensation amount on the spot.

But the trench that the administration had dug up along the land acquired for the project was filled with mud by the villagers after the administration returned from the spot, according to Prashant Paikray, spokesperson of the Sangram Samiti.

Mr. Paikray questioned the administration’s work of digging the trench and felling of trees saying that it was illegal since the environment clearance granted for the project by the Centre in the past had been suspended by the National Green Tribunal last year. He said the administration’s move would be opposed tooth and nail again on Friday.

Administration plan

According to sources, the administration planned to complete acquisition of 2700 acres of land for Posco within a few weeks.

The company brought down its land requirement from 4004 acres to 2700 acres as the administration found it difficult to acquire land in Dhinkia village due to stiff opposition from the locals. As per its changed strategy, the company plans to establish a steel plant with an annual production capacity of eight million tons over a land of 2700 acres instead of establishing a 12 million ton per annum capacity steel mill over 4004 acres of land.

 

Odisha – (MOEF) Roy Paul Committee Report Reveals More Illegalities, Exposes POSCO’s Destructive Potential


POSCO

 

At a time when our people are facing bombs, lathis and violence in order to defend their basic rights to their homes, lands and livelihoods, yet another official committee has confirmed that the POSCO project is being pushed through without a thought for the welfare of the people of the area or of this country.

 

On October 22nd 2012, the second official review committee to be constituted on the POSCO project – constituted in May 2012  (this time, on the directions of the National Green Tribunal on March 31, 2012) submitted its report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). This report has not yet been made public but has been obtained by an Right to Information (RTI) request.

 

The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) wishes to bring the following key points from the report to the attention of the public in this regard:

 

·        The Odisha government and POSCO are lying when they say they have decided to reduce the project size to 2700 acres and “leave out” most of the private and forest lands in the villages of Dhinkia and Govindpur. Till date their plant layout lists the plant’s substation, water supply facilities, main office for phase I, two gates, etc. in the land that they supposedly do not want. The committee has asked POSCO to submit a revised layout and also unambiguously state that this will not affect their expansion plans.

 

·        The Committee notes that – eight years after signing an MoU to start the project – the government and POSCO have yet to carry out the following basic studies:

 

‣      Assessing how much water is actually available in the area and whether this area can support such a huge plant;

 

‣      Impacts on fisheries, which support more than 20,000 people in the area;

 

‣      A plan for management of oil spills;

 

‣      Impact of dredging of material for the private port;

 

‣      Impact on marine ecology and wildlife from the plant;

 

‣      Critical long term study for captive port

 

·        The Committee also says that therefore the project needs to submit a fresh Environment Impact Assessment report for its revised layout. Hence, the entire process effectively has to start again.

 

·        The Committee has also clearly said that expansion of any project in the area (not just POSCO) should be considered only after a carrying capacity study.

 

In short, as per the findings of the Roy Paul committee, this project has never been studied properly and could – in other words – pose a serious risk to the entire area. The committee hence confirms the finding of the NGT 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 impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts un-answered.”

 

It is a different matter that the Roy Paul Committee has incorrectly limited its own mandate – looking only at “conditions” of the 2011 environment clearance rather than a full review as mandated in their Terms of Reference (ToR) as well as directions of the NGT. It also tries to claim that the revised EIA can be made and the process go ahead without a public hearing or a new environmental clearance – but this is simply illegal. None of this attempt to shield POSCO and their former colleagues changes the facts that the Committee reveals.

 

Three of our people have given up their lives to stop this illegal and unjust project. What the Committee report confirms is that no one – including the government that is unleashing brute force against us – has any idea how many more lives will be lost, and how much more damage caused, if this project indeed comes up. It is time that the State and Central government stopped acting on behalf of POSCO as its agent and instead take the serious social, human rights environmental and legal issues on board to reject the project in its entirety.

 

 

 

Prashant Paikaray

 

Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti.

 

Mobile no – 09437571547

 

E- mail- prashantpaikaray@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Green tribunal reserves order on JSPL’s #Chhattisgarh plant


Nov 10, 2012, DNA

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday reserved its order on the appeal against the environmental clearance given to Naveen Jindal’s steel and power plant in Chhattisgarh.

The appeal filed by NGO Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Kisan Ekta Sanghatan and Jan Chetna had alleged that there were serious environmental flaws and the public hearing conducted in 2010 was an eyewash and repeated moves by JSPL to increase the land acquired for the each power unit is bad in law.

Senior advocate Raj Panjwani appearing on behalf of the NGO told the bench of justice AS Naidu and expert member Devendra Kumar Agarwal, “All construction work started at this project was much before they got due clearance from the ministry of environment concerned and all promises JSPL made for the future are always taken for granted.”

Citing the example of how the land demand of JSPL increased with every unit, Panjwani told the bench, “First they needed 614 hectares for 1000MW and then 1041 hectares for 2400MW. It seems that there are no norms for acquiring the land for JSPL.”

Taking note of the submissions made by Panjwani, the bench also questioned JSPL as to on what grounds land acquiring system changes from one project to other and remarked “How optimisation is taking place?”

On this senior advocate Pinaki Misra appearing for JSPL said, “We are adhering to all environmental rules and regulations and if still the tribunal thinks that we are flouting any rules, then we at our own cost is ready to get an environment assessment done.”

To a query by the bench on procurement of water for running the plant, Misra said, “We are currently fulfilling our needs from the Mahanadi river and is soon to laid down pipes over there for which we have filed an application in the environment ministry for due clearance.”

“You are already operating 2 units at the plant and still no permission has been taken in advance from the ministry. Are you speculating that you will get permission for what all you have been doing,” the bench remarked asking it to adhere to rules and regulations strictly.

The NGT has also directed all parties to file the written submissions if any by November 20.

 

JSPL guard part of plot to shoot RTI activist Ramsh Agarwal : Police


Ramesh Agarwal

Friday, 27 July 2012, Zee News
Staff Reporter In Raigarh

In a stunning revelation, the police claimed on Thursday that a security guard working with private steel major Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL) had hired contract killers to shoot a noted RTI activist who has a history of exposing industrial houses for flouting rules.

The police presented the three accused at a crowded Press conference in Raigarh town and said the interrogation revealed that the guard, who was working with JSPL through a security agency, had a key role in the daring attack on Ramesh Agrawal, 56, who was shot at twice in his office on July 7.

Agrawal was operated on more than once at a private hospital in Raipur and is still in the intensive care unit, though doctors have taken out both bullets from his body.

The accused security guard has been identified as Tarkeshwar Rai.

“Rai had given money to G Vyankatesh, who hired a few goons. The three of them have been arrested in Odisha last week and brought to Raigarh on transit remand. The attack plot was then revealed before the media by the police,” said Neha Pandey, Additional Superintendent of Police (city).

She added that the arrested men — Sunil Behra, Sanjay Das and Naresh Patro — were history-sheeters in the neighbouring Odisha, while one of the key accused, G Vyankatesh, was still at large.

“Sunil Behra revealed during police interrogation that he was given `10,000 to kill Agrawal. Police teams would soon be sent to track down Vyankatesh,” Pandey said.

Asked about motive behind the attack, Inspector General of Police Ashok Juneja told The Pioneer over the phone, “Very soon, the mastermind behind the attack will be in police clutches and then I will be able to give you more details about the sequence of the attack.”

JSPL has massive business interests in Raigarh district and Agrawal has a track record of lobbying against industries in the district.

In one of his most recent campaigns against the Jindal Group, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had, in April, cancelled environmental clearance granted for a 4-million tonne per annum coal mine to JSPL on the basis of documental evidence submitted by the RTI activist.

Agrawal had claimed before the tribunal that the mandatory public hearing held to clear the project did not follow accepted procedure.

Green Tribunal rejects plea against Jaitapur Nuclear project


May 25, 2012 03:43 PM

The Tribunal dismissed the plea of Janahit Seva Samiti saying the petition was filed after a delay of 294 days

New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has refused to entertain a petition challenging the environment clearance (EC) granted to 9,900MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Park in Maharashtra‘s Ratnagiri district in West India on the ground that the plea was time barred, reports PTI.

The Tribunal dismissed the plea of Janahit Seva Samiti, an NGO,challenging the 26 November 2010 EC granted by Indian Ministry of
Environment and Forest (MoEF) to the project, saying the petition wasfiled after a delay of 294 days on 17 September 2011 and hence was”grossly barred by time”.

As per the NGT Act, a plea can be filed within 30 days of passing of an order sought to be challenged and the Tribunal, to its
satisfaction, can condone a further delay of 60 days.

“As stated earlier, this Tribunal being a statutory authority is bound by the provisions of the statute and cannot traverse beyond provisions of the NGT Act. Under Section-16 (relating to appellate jurisdiction of NGT) there is clear bar not to entertain appeal filed beyond 60 days,” a bench headed by Tribunal’s Acting Chairperson Justice AS Naidu said.

“Though this Tribunal is liberal in condoning the delay, as and when it finds sufficient reasons and is not super-technical, but then being
a statutory tribunal it cannot ignore the period stipulated in the statute.

“In view of the discussions made above, we are not inclined to condone the delay and dismiss this petition.

Consequently, the appeal also stands dismissed,” it added.

The plea was filed by Maharashtra-based NGO Janahit Seva Samiti contending that “project is likely to cause hazard to the environment
as well as ecology”.

The NGO had pleaded that the NGT Act came into force from 18 October 2010, but the Tribunal started functioning only from June 2011, and it (NGO) took all “effective and diligent steps to file the appeal as early as possible”.

The plea was “strongly opposed” by MoEF, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, contending that delay could not be condoned as they have “substantially gone ahead with the project”, incurred huge expenses and “any hindrance at this stage would cause great prejudice”.

The bench noted that as the Tribunal started functioning only from June 2011, the Supreme Court had in a judgement extended the period for filing an appeal by 60 days commencing from 30 May 2011 and “thus the last date for filing an appeal was extended till 30 July 2011″.

“The appellant (NGO) failed to avail the opportunity granted by the Supreme Court and did not file the appeal within extended period too.

“The appeal was filed only in the month of September 2011. Thus, the same is grossly barred by time,” the bench said.

POSCO–Pack up and go away -says (PPSS)


PPSS Update. Dhirendra Gourishyam Panda

During the recent visit of South Korean ambassador to India Kim Joong Keun to Odisha, he said that POSO may reduce the capacity of production of the proposed steel plant in case they do not get all the land needed. POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) strongly opposes this shrewd new formula of the POSCO. We make it clear that our people are not going to be befooled by it. The land that government has acquired for the project till now has been done at the gun point. People have been given false promises and cheated. One can come to Gada Kujang and Nuagaon areas and see the helpless condition of people whose land government has taken by force and by fraudulent means. We demand all the land which have been taken by the gove…rnment should be returned to people.

After the environmental clearance to the project was suspended by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the company has closed down its field office from Noliasahi. But we want the company to completely pack up and go from our area.

Our leader Narayan Reddy and seven other friends are still languishing in jail in false charges. PPSS reiterates its demand to release them unconditionally.

We have come to know that despite the suspension of the green clearance, the state government may still resume land acquisition in June. We will oppose any such move tooth and nail.

In the mean time the members of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) visited our area and took stock of the situation. It has found the breach of promise by the government made to the people whose lands have been taken and said improper rehabilitation and not providing regular allowance until employment is given to people amount to human rights violation. While we appreciate the note taken by NHRC, we demand that forceful usurpation of sources of livelihood of people is still more serious form of human rights violation and NHRC should take note of this.

 

The NHRC has ordered 5 lakh rupees compensation to the wife of late Tapan Mandal who was killed by the pro-POSCO goons during the clash. The government and Red Cross had given a compensation of 60 thousand rupees to her, which NHRC found to be grossly inadequate.

We are continuing our Dharana near Govindpur village and will continue our peaceful demonstration till the project is scrapped.

Kindly circulate this mail widely.

In Solidarity,

Prashant Paikary
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Mobile no-09437571547
E-Mail – prashantpaikary@gmail.com

POSCO’s steel dreams laid to rust


 With the National Green Tribunal scrapping environment clearance, Posco’s seven-year-wait is extended further, reports Bibhuti Pati in TEHELKA 

ON 30 March 2012, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) delivered a judgment that has sent India’s largest FDI back to the drawing table. In the landmark order, the NGT suspended the conditional environment clearance granted last year, and directed the environment ministry to carry out a ‘fresh review’ of the POSCO project. The project, a 12 million tonne iron and steel plant, has been one of India’s most hotly debated industrial projects. More than seven years since it was first proposed, the project has been symptomatic of India’s development riddle itself. While POSCO supporters see the project as a boost for India’s investment credentials, adversaries point to major irregularities and violations of law, human displacement, and the potential of largescale environment disaster.

In a vindication of protests against POSCO, the NGT in its order has noted that the full impact of the project is yet to be measured, since environmental impact assessments were made only for a 4 million tonne plant, not the full 12MT which POSCO plans to expand to. This is what TEHELKA had earlier reported, detailing the loopholes in the ministry’s clearance. While the environment clearance was given for a 4 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) steel plant, resources — land, water and iron ore — were allocated for a 12 MTPA project. (See ;Whose steel? Who’s stealing? TEHELKA 11 December 2010).

Significantly, this judgment comes just days after PM Manmohan Singh assured South Korea that efforts were under way for an early implementation of the POSCO project in Odisha. Singh told South Korean business leaders in Seoul that the government was “keen to move forward with the project,” while adding, “India is a stable and profitable long-term investment opportunity.”

The NGT bench consisted of members Justice CV Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Agarwal. The tribunal observed: “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme 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 impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter, leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts unanswered.”

Just 48 hours before the tribunal ruling on POSCO, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out serious irregularities in the allocation of land to private promoters, misuse of emergency provisions for land acquisition and under-valuation of compensation for private land owners by the Odisha government. “The government misused the emergency provision under Section 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act in several cases, depriving the land losers of the opportunity to be heard,” said the CAG report, tabled in the Odisha Assembly. The audit report pointed out that the state government acquired nearly 438 acre by paying a compensation of Rs 11.85 crore while the present market value of the land is more than Rs 65 crore.

The Odisha government had signed an MOU with POSCO for the steel plant to be set up near Paradip port, in Jagatsinghpur district in 2005. It has been embroiled in controversy since.

In August 2010, POSCO’s forest clearance was suspended following complaints of violations of law.

An enquiry committee constituted under Meena Gupta, a former MoEF secretary, was formed to review the project. In October 2010, three members of the enquiry committee submitted a landmark report saying environmental and forest clearances were illegal, while Meena Gupta dissented to say that the project can be cleared with additional conditions. On 31 January 2011, the MoEF with Jairam Ramesh as environment minister upheld all clearances to POSCO, while prescribing some additional conditions, mostly consisting of studies to be done in future. In June 2011, Prafulla Santra, an activist and convener of National Alliance of People’s Movement, challenged the final order in the NGT. This tribunal was created by the environment ministry two years ago to provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. POSCO has the option of appealing against this ruling in the Supreme Court.

In its ruling, the NGT questioned the appointment of Meena Gupta as the chairperson of the review committee, which was set up by the MoEF, stating that the ministry had ignored the views of the other three members and accepted Gupta’s arguments. “Whether Meena Gupta’s actions are fair or not, they are definitely hit by her personal, official, departmental bias. This is in gross violation of principles of natural justice,” the tribunal stated.
CAG pointed out irregularities in the allocation of land to private promoters by the ruling BJD

Describing this order as a ‘conspiracy’ against the state, ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLAs have now asked the state government to clear doubts over the fate of this Rs 52,000-crore mega project. The issue was raised in the Odisha assembly during zero hour, when members of the treasury bench along with those of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) expressed concern over the NGT order.

Meanwhile, POSCO has said that it is a law-abiding firm and would comply with all the directives in this regard. “The National Green Tribunal has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to review afresh the clearance and we will ensure that we follow all directions given to us,” said a company official.

Welcoming the verdict, anti-POSCO activists strongly criticised Jairam Ramesh and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for selling the livelihoods of 4,000 people and the laws of the land to the highest bidder. For the last seven years, activists of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) have refused to allow any construction work to begin. Villagers in Dhinkia, the panchayat most severely affected by the project, have been demanding scrapping or relocation of the project. They claim it will deprive them of their major source of income from the betel vines spread across nearly 3,000 acres of forest land.

“IT IS painful for a citizen of an independent and democratic nation to realise that his/her elected representatives are willing to serve an unscrupulous and erring corporation even if the people who have elected them suffer in terms of life and livelihood,” said petitioner Prafulla Samantra. “In light of the verdict, I demand scrapping of the project and booking the firm for all violations. Book the culpable officers for criminal conspiracy against the people and the land.”

“It is heartening to realise that the rule of law has been upheld by the National Green Tribunal,” added senior environmentalist Biswajeet Mohanty. “As a democracy, we cannot bend laws and overlook violations just for the sake of accommodating the largest FDI in India. The entire POSCO project is shrouded with illegalities. Land acquisition, environmental clearances, forest clearances and port clearances have been done in blatant violation of the laws of the country. The objections by the MoEF’s own officers and expert committees were over-ruled by the MoEF. This ruling establishes that both the (Odisha) state and the centre violated environmental laws to favour this project proposal.”