File picture of a tree being cut in the Posco project area
Bhubaneswar, Jan. 24: The National Green Tribunal today barred the South Korean steel major Posco from wielding the axe while ruling that it was up to the state government to issue appropriate orders for tree cutting in the project area, where the exercise was halted in May last year.
The ruling is likely to pave the way for the construction of Posco’s much-delayed mega steel project near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district,
“It is now between them (Posco) and the state,” said a bench headed by tribunal chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, noting that the project had been granted environment clearance and according to the Forest (Conservation) Act, permission for cutting trees was to be given by the state government.
“Environmental clearance has already been granted to them. The state government has to pass an order for forest clearance. It is for the state government to pass an order.”
The court said that Posco was at liberty to approach the state government for appropriate orders but till such orders were passed, they couldn’t cut any trees in the area.
With the ball now in the state government’s court, it is likely to take a call on the issue soon raising hopes of the project construction work commencing at the site where a boundary wall is coming up despite protests by some villagers.
“It’s a welcome decision,” said steel and mines minister Rajani Kant Singh, adding that now the forest and environment department of the state would have to apply its mind to the issue.
“We will have to see if any hurdles come up while implementing the law,” he said.
BJD MP and eminent lawyer Pinaki Mishra exuded optimism and said: “The project can now move ahead.”
On May 28 last year, the green tribunal had ordered the maintenance of status quo with regard to cutting of trees at the project site following a petition by a civil society activist. An outfit called Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti has also been opposing the project, which has been stuck since June 2005, when the state government and the South Korean company signed an MoU, because of a series of protests.
However, the project got a major boost on January 10 when the Union minister for environment and forests Veerappa Moily announced that the project’s environmental clearance suspended by the National Green Tribunal in 2012 had been revalidated. This was done by de-linking the steel project from the company’s proposal for setting up a captive port at the Jatadhari river mouth.
The state government has already acquired 2,700 acres at the project site for the construction of an eight-million-tonne steel plant.
Of this 1,703 acres have been transferred to Posco-India and the rest is likely to be handed over to the company soon.
The other good news for the company is that the state government has made a recommendation in its favour for the grant of iron ore prospecting licence in the Khandadhar area of Sundargarh district.
However, it may have to face opposition from the area’s tribal people who are opposed to the idea of mining in the hilly tract made famous by a waterfall.