A committee set up by the union environment ministry to review Posco's steel mill project in Orissa has failed to come to a definite conclusion. The panel was expected to give its final verdict today; instead it has chosen to waffle.
The four-member committee presented two separate reports, which will now be examined on 25 October by the forest advisory committee before environment minister Jairam Ramesh takes a final decision.
According to reports, a majority of the committee felt the project should be scrapped as it could violate the Forest Rights Act, but there was no final conclusion, Ramesh told reporters in New Delhi.
Ramesh's ministry of environment and forests ordered a halt to all work on the project in August, including land acquisition, while the panel probed if the act had been violated.
The committee's report today said that though the Posco issue does not involve tribals, there are weaknesses in the proposal.
Headed by former environment secretary Meena Gupta, the committee was constituted to probe the status of implementation of the Forest Rights Act and implementation of the rehabilitation and resettlement plans. Its mandate was later broadened to review the South Korean steel major's compliance with environmental and coastal regulation zone rules.
The panel has reviewed all approvals granted over the last five years to the steel giant at various government levels for its projected Rs50,000 crore integrated steel plant.
The ministry had issued a "stop work" notice to the state government in early August based on the recommendation of the Saxena Committee, which had in its interim report said there were violations of the Forest Rights Act at the site.
The fact that Gupta, the chair of the committee, was the most senior bureaucrat in the ministry when environmental clearance was given to the project has led to speculation about the way the final report will go.
The committee, besides reviewing infringements of forest clearance regulations and Forest Rights Act, was also mandated to ascertain whether the environment clearance given during Gupta's tenure was clean.
According to a report, Gupta continues to support the project even as the other committee members are united in opposing it.
Ramesh is now unlikely to take a call on the matter before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from his trip to South Korea for the G20 summit starting 11 November.
Ramesh said the situation over Posco could not be compared to the aluminium project proposed in the state by Vedanta Resources Plc in the same state, which has been virtually killed on environmental grounds. He said the orders against Vedanta Aluminium were besides based on solid evidence.