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Posco boost before Park’s India visit

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 10: Prospects of the much-delayed Posco steel project, widely perceived to be country’s biggest foreign direct investment (FDI), getting off the ground have brightened with the Union ministry of environment and forests re-validating its environmental clearance.

The move comes ahead of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s four-day visit to India beginning January 15. Sources said the Union ministry has given its nod to the project by de-linking it from the company’s proposed captive port project.

Environment clearance to the port is still pending but the Centre’s decision is certain to clear decks for the construction of the plant, which has been hanging fire since 2005.

The proposed steel plant had received initial clearance from the Centre in 2007, which was followed by the final approval in 2011.

But the approval was suspended by the National Green Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, in 2012, citing environmental concerns.

In another important development, chief minister Naveen Patnaik today cleared the state government’s response to the clarifications sought by the Centre on the issue of granting Khandadhar iron ore mining lease to Posco, said sources. The mines are crucial to the company’s project.

Steel and mines minister Rajani Kant Singh exuded confidence about project taking off in the wake of Centre’s clearance. Pointing out that construction of the boundary wall at the project site near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district had already begun, Singh said: “We expect things to move fast now.”

“If things work out as planned, the bhoomi puja should take place within a month with chief minister Naveen Patnaik doing the honours,” said an official requesting anonymity.

Resistance from a section of the local residents notwithstanding, construction of the project boundary wall has been going on for about a month now. Nearly half a kilometre of the wall, which will stretch for 12.6km from Noliasahi to Gobindpur village, has already been completed, said external relations and public relations officer Posco-India Ansuman Pattnayak.

Of the 2,700 acres acquired by the state government for the first phase construction of the eight-million tonne steel mill, around 1,700 acres, which is around 45 per cent of the required land, has already been transferred to the company.

However, a section of the local residents are upset with the state government’s alleged failure to keep its rehabilitation-related promises.

“The local people think that they are being driven out of their homes for the construction of project boundary wall. The government had promised to address issues such as revision of the compensation and alternate livelihood package. But nothing has happened yet. We have decided to hold a demonstration at Erasama tehsil office,” said sarpanch of the Nuagaon gram panchayat Anjali Pradhan.

However, Jagatsinghpur collector Satya Kumat Mallick sought to assure people that their grievances would be looked into.

“The Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development Advisory Committee meeting will be convened soon to consider the demands related to revision of compensation and resettlement package. The revenue divisional commission (central) has given an assurance in this regard,” said Mallick.

Additional reporting by Manoj Kar in Jagatsinghpur