After Vedanta, Posco project faces further setback

In a continuing crackdown on environment-damaging projects, the environment and forests ministry on Monday widened the ambit of a fact-finding committee on alleged violations in land acquisition for the Rs54,000-crore Posco's steel plant in Orissa.

This comes a week after the ministry virtually threw out the Vedanta aluminium project in the state by denying final stage forest clearance, and also a week after state chief minister Navin Patnaik expressed confidence that the Posco plant will get environmental clearance. (See: Posco project back on hold after environ ministry finds violations)

The fate of the 12-million tonne per annum steel project by the Korean steelmaker now appears to be bleak after the ministry asked the Meena Gupta committee to investigate the status of the implementation of several regulations, including compliance with environment impact assessment, coastal regulation zone laws and other clearances earlier granted by the environment ministry.

The committee, which has been asked to submit its report by September-end, has a mandate to "review compliance with pari passu conditionalities" for all clearances obtained for the project.

The committee had visited the project site at Jagatsinghpur district last week and met state government officials. It has to submit a report on implementation of the in-principle approval given to the project in 2008. The committee is required to examine whether provisions of Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Relief and Rehabilitation policy of the state.

There had been complaints that rights of traditional forest dwellers as defined in the FRA have not been taken into account. In July this year, the MoEF had formed a four-member panel headed by former MoEF secretary Meena Gupta to assess the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the project area in Jagatsinghpur district.

On 5 August, the ministry issued an order banning acquisition of forest land for Posco's proposed plant after a subgroup of N C Saxena panel looking into implementation of FRA pointed to violation of the act. The Meena Gupta panel was specifically asked to also look into the rehabilitation measures.

The Orissa government had said there were no traditional forest dwellers in the area, and tribals' rights have been identified as per FRA provisions. This was incorrect, the Saxena committee said.