Project in Odisha is over, says Posco
Korean steel major Posco told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday that it would not pursue any more its Rs 50,000-crore integrated steel plant project in Odisha.
In a case where Posco was defending the revised environmental clearance it had received in 2014, the court recorded the Korean giant as stating the “environmental clearance is valid only up to July 19, 2017, and they would not be able to do any work because the land has not been handed over to them and therefore the project cannot proceed any further”.
Project proponents are permitted to ask for five-year extensions to their environmental clearances and these are routinely granted in most cases by the Union environment ministry. However, Posco asked the tribunal to cancel its clearance. Instead, the court ordered: “At this stage they (Posco) are unable to carry out the project and if they plan to take advantage of the environment clearance and complete the project, they would inform the applicant and the tribunal.”
This effectively brings the curtain down on the company’s beleaguered project, stuck in environmental litigation from the start.
The project got its first ecology clearance in 2007 and the statutory forest clearance in 2010. In 2011, then Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh set up a committee to examine the validity of the clearance to what was then touted as the biggest foreign investment in the country. Ramesh cleared the project yet again but with additional conditions. This got challenged in the NGT. The green court suspended the clearance, setting up yet another committee to examine the matter. Based on this panel’s report, the ministry gave another clearance to the project in 2014. This fresh clearance was challenged again, for having allegedly violated the terms the court had imposed while asking for the re-examination.
Meanwhile, the company was charged with cutting down trees on the site without having got a formal letter from the state government affirming its forest clearance. It was given a stop-work order in this instance. Oddly, the formal letter from Odisha, a formality in the forest clearance process, never came. The case also lingered at the NGT.
On Friday, to the surprise of petitioner Prafulla Samantray and his lawyers, Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary, the company asked for its environmental clearance to be cancelled, saying it would not be able to complete the project by the deadline of the environmental clearance in 2017 – which it could have sought to extend as a routine event. It, as mentioned earlier, instead asked for cancellation of the environmental clearance. The petitioner opposed this, preferring that the company formally ask the ministry for withdrawal.
The court ordered that in the light of the company’s statements, the appeal before it had become infructuous. It said in case the company again tried to pursue the project under the existing environmental clearance, it would have to inform the court and the petitioner, and the latter would hold the right to revive his petition.
LIFE AND DEATH OF A STEEL PLANT PLAN
2005: Posco signs pact with Odisha govt for 12-mt steel plant
2007: Posco gets environment nod for the plant; state seeks nod from environment ministry for diversion of 1,253 ha of land to Posco
2010: Project gets forest clearance for using forestland that villagers claim as betel plantations
2011: UPA govt re-examines the green nod, puts new conditions; protesting villagers clash with police; clearance challenged in National Green Tribunal
2012: Tribunal suspends environment clearance, sets up panel to re-examine project for specific environment impact
2014: Environment ministry under UPA grants fresh clearance again with new conditions; clearance challenged for not following court orders; court stops work for lack of conveyance of forest clearance by Odisha to company
2016: Posco tells court it will not pursue the project anymore