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Environmental Justice Prevails- POSCO Has Been Curbed

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By Sakshi Gupta:

The single largest steel-power-port-township and potentially mega mining project ever conceived in the history of India, and also the largest industrial project conceived in recent decades world wide, POSCO ( Steel Company , of South Korea) is also the largest FDI in india. This steel company which has now been in headlines since past 7 years, had finally witnessed a hazy verdict from National Green Tribunor which cancelled all the clearances allowed to the Korean company in the past years.

Since June 2005, when the agreement between the Government of Orissa and the South Korean Pohang Steel Company, aka POSCO, was signed, there have been under the table dealings taking place amongst the State Government of Orissa, the Central Government of India and POSCO. On 15th May,2007 Mr. A Raja, the then Minister of Environment and Forest, granted Korean steel giant Posco its first major statutory clearance by approving the captive port component of its controversial Rs. 52,000 crore steel plant project in Orissa. Interestingly, he granted the clearance just one day before he moved from the Environment to the Telecom Ministry. But now even behind the scene dealings between P. Chidambram (the then Finance minister), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and POSCO couldn’t supress complaints of non-implementation of the Forests Rights Act.

There was a thus, a review committe setup under the chair of none other than the former Secretary under whose watch clearances were granted in the first place, Meena Gupta. Did the Government expect to review her own decision? But the individual report filed by the other three members of the review committe stated that both the Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committees which granted environmental clearances were biased towards the Korean Company and this also called for the cancellation of the clearances.

Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests (I/C) of the Government of India cleared the diversion of 3,000 acres of forest land that was a major part of the 4,000 acres required for the POSCO Steel-power-port project in the ecologically sensitive Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa, ignoring the reports filed by the review committe.

There are alot of problems associated with the Steel Company, its location, its raw material and the problems which the biodiversity could be facing. Some of them are given below:-

1)There is no particular water resource for the company, wheresas it needs 12,000,000 liters of water per hour. There have been conflicts between the local people and the company because the fresh water resources offered happened to be the source of drinking water for the people of Cuttack city.

2)There would be a great loss of the already endangered biodiversity of India because POSCO port will be just a few kilometers away from Gahirmatha and Devi nesting beaches, one of the largest nesting grounds of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the world. The turtles’ migratory paths would intersect shipping routes, and the lights illuminating the port could cause nesting turtles to abandon the site. Other wild creatures such as horseshoe crabs and three species of dolphins use the area as breeding and foraging grounds. The turbidity, caused by constant dredging to maintain the shipping channel, would not support any life along the coast. How will this affect the livelihoods of lakhs of coastal people in the area? There would be the likely impact on the mangroves of Bhitarkanika National Park, India’s last safe population of saltwater crocodiles and a site recognized by the international RAMSAR treaty.

3)There would also be severe erosion to public-sector Paradip port. The port will be constructed at great ecological and human cost on the premise that there are accessible raw materials somewhere. There are none. Even while the State and Centre are pushing the enterprise forward, POSCO has no iron ore for its steel plant or to export through its port back to the mother country, and no coal mine to fuel its power plant.

4)There was Environmental Impact Assessment done on the POSCO company and it also issued clearance to the company. This is a matter of fact that the EIA could not find any of the above mentioned problems as violation of environmental laws.

5)Not to be overlooked is the fact that POSCO proposed to raise the base height of the plant from 0 MSL to 6 MSL, largely to avoid any serious impact on its plant from anything like the 5.6 metres tidal wave that slammed this very region in the super cyclone of 1999, leaving a trail of destruction and misery tens of kilometres inland.

This is a great irony on the face of Indian Government that it wanted to push the POSCO project ahead despite all the problems its own countrymen would have gone through. It was just because of the local people’s opposition. When every single state mechanism and law that protected their rights has been undermined, people have peacefully beared daily harassment and violence being dealt to them by privately-hired people and state police, that there was finally environmental justice achieved in India.

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