By Asmita Sarkar:
Maharashtra’s coastal district of Sawantwadi is set to see some change, come 2016. Almost 33 thousand acres in size, it has lately been gaining popularity as a tourist spot and for its wooden handicraft industry. But it is in the news these days as it’s set to host South Korean giant Posco, which has signed a MoU with Uttam Steel, promoted by the Miglani family, to set up a 3 million tonne per annum integrated steel plant.
POSCO stays undeterred by the unsuccessful attempt to set up a steel plant in Odisha. The 12 billion dollar project lays dormant as the Center and the company have come to an impasse. Inspite of receiving a green signal by the Meena Gupta committee, which was formed to examine the effect the steel plan would have on the environment, the Center’s refusal to allocate any iron ore out of turn to POSCO, has stalemated the situation in Odisha.
Work on a detailed project report on the current tie up has already begun, the construction is set to begin in September 2016, and Uttam Steels has already acquired more than a thousand acres of land for the same. Co promoted by ArcelorMittal, who owns 29.05% of Uttam Steels, the project will, in its first phase set up a 1.5 MTPA plant. They also plan to set up a 150 MW captive power plant.
POSCO is ensuring that it doesn’t make any of the mistakes it did the last time. The two year late environment impact analysis, difficulties in allocation of water and other infrastructural issues, as well as the Odisha government finally washing its hands off POSCO seems to have taught the company to pre-empt the temperament of the Indian bureaucracy.
POSCO also mirrors the case of TATA Nano, which had received flak from the residents of the area and major leaders of West Bengal before shifting to Gujarat. Both projects would have contributed heavily to the economy of the eastern states, creating employment and development. The Odisha government had begun the process keeping this aim in mind and considering the fact that it encompasses villages like Kalahandi, where people live in abject poverty, POSCO would have been a contributor to the economy. However, activists see the shutdown of the steel plant as a win for the environment, which is ironical since POSCO had been given the green nod in 2014, and the only reason it stays in a stalemate is because of contention with the Center on iron ore allocation.
The people had been fighting for ensuring that Cuttack’s drinking water supply doesn’t get effected, as well as the preservation of various species of flora and fauna in and around the location. While some claimed that the protests were politically motivated, the concerns regarding the biodiversity loss had been real and free of any political agenda. POSCO had been unable to bludgeon on in Odisha, and there seems to be nothing that it has learned about environmental safety after its previous experience. Now, it is to be seen if the activists posit a protest this time around, now that the project has been take away from a land area previously restricted under the Forest Act, and if they do so, will India’s changing environmental laws permit them.