The South Korean Steel major Posco can’t start work on construction of `53,000 crore steel plant in Odisha as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday stopped the company from felling trees at the plant site till the state government issues order providing forest clearance.

“Environmental clearance has already been granted to them (Posco). State government has to pass order for forest clearance. It is for the state government to pass an order. It is between them and the state,” the NGT ruled while hearing a petition filed by activist Prafulla Samantray challenging forest clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 2011.

The activist had approached the NGT last year on the ground that the Posco can’t fell trees at Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha just on the ground that MoEF has recommended transfer of forest land for non-forest purpose. He said that an order regarding the same has to come from the Odisha Government, but it has not been issued since 2011.

“We dispose of the petition. The project proponent (Posco) is at liberty to approach the state government for appropriate orders. Till such orders are passed by the state government, no trees be cut by the project proponent,” said the Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar. The NGT further said that once the Central Government accords its approval, it is to be followed by appropriate orders by the state government. The tribunal in May 2013 had halted the land acquisition for the project following Samantray’s petition.

The Odisha Government counsel assured the Bench that an order regarding the same will be issued, but applicant’s counsel said that the state has been sitting on the forest clearance order for it can be challenged in the NGT by the people.

As per the law, people can challenge an order in NGT and the moment Odisha will issue an order granting forest clearance to the Posco it will be challenged by activists opposing the project.

“The tribunal has clearly said that without forest clearance (order from the state government), trees can’t be cut. As per Forest Conservation Act, the Central Government is only an approval authority and final authority is the state as it owns the land,” said Raj Panjawani, counsel for the applicant. Generally what project proponents used to do was that they used to start cutting the trees after clearance from the Central Government.

“Now picture is clear that project proponent will only cut trees if the final order is passed by state government and not only on basis of the Central Government approval. Now once state government passes order, people who wanted to approach the NGT can also do so against the forest clearance granted to the Posco,” he said.

The project has been pending since 2006 due to environmental reasons. Earlier, Union Environment Minister M Verrappa Moi ly issued revalidation order for environment clearance to the steel plant after delinking it from the port project.


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