The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday stepped in to stop felling of trees for the controversial Posco
steel project in Orissa
’s Jagatsinghpur district
, posing another challenge to the South Korean company’s much-delayed $12 billion plant.
According to a report by PTI earlier this month, the state government has been able to acquire 2,630 acres of land against the initial requirement of 2,700 acres for setting up the 8 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) plant.
Environmental clearance for the project was suspended by the same tribunal in March last year.
“It is undisputed that as of today the project proponent does not have environmental clearance,” the bench headed by justice Swatanter Kumar
said on Tuesday.
A petition filed by activist Prafulla Samantray
brought to the tribunal’s notice the violation by the steel company in Orissa.
“It is contended before us now that large number of trees are being felled/cut by the project proponent without permission of any competent authority,” the bench’s order said.
Samantray alleged that the Orissa government was in collusion with the company and around 200,000 trees have been cut despite the suspension of the environmental clearance.
“This shows that the Orissa government is more concerned about the interests of the corporate and not the interest of its people. These trees are very important for our area as they prevent us from cyclones in the area,” he said.
The tribunal’s decision is significant as Posco was violating the earlier NGT order while felling trees in the area, said Rahul Choudhary, advocate for the petitioner.
“This talks about the company and how they are violating the law of the land. The country should make sure that they consider damage to environment because of a plant, instead of just looking at the investment that the company brings,” he said.
The tribunal added that the suspension of the environmental clearance will remain in force till an order is passed by the environment ministry based on the recommendations of a committee headed by former bureaucrat K. Roy Paul that was set up last year to look into this issue.
The South Korean company denied any violations in a posting on its website.
“Posco reiterates that it has never violated any human rights or environment norms in Orissa and also assures all its precious shareholders and stakeholders that Posco has committed itself to protect human rights through ethical practice,” the company said.
’s general manager, corporate relations, I.G. Lee
, did not answer his phone or reply to a text message seeking comments.
Earlier, Lee had said the company was awaiting the handing over of 2,700 acres of land by the state government to start building its steel plant.
According to the original plan, the company needs 4,004 acres in an area with sandy soil in parts where villagers grow nuts and betel vines.
The committee further said that the fund was not doing enough to protect against human rights breaches.
PTI and Reuters contributed to this story.