Proceed only after tribals' consent, ForestMin tells Posco

In a surprise move, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has again reminded South Korean giant Pohang Steel Company (Posco) that it could proceed with the construction of its mega 12 million tonne steel project in Orissa's coastal Jagatsinghpur district only after fulfilling certain conditions, including ensuring "informed consent" of the tribal people. The MoEF letter of December 29 had conveyed its approval to the steel giant's Stage-II forest diversion proposal of 1,253.225 hectares of forest land and had already mandated the company to ensure that the rights of the tribal populace were settled in accordance the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and other forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006. In a letter dated January 8 this year, the MoEF sought to clarify again that "the project can go ahead only after the conditions of MoEF... including the condition related to informed consent of the tribal people are fulfilled" as per the provisions of the Act.
The ministry had laid down 15 conditions for the Korean giant to meet before proceeding ahead. These included mandatory afforestation in consultation with the state government, using the forest land for stated purposes, no labour camps in the forest area, ensuring due care of the flora and fauna and ensuring Relief and Rehabilitation to the project affected families according to the Orissa government's R&R Policy 2006 and as per the orders of the Supreme Court. It also asked Posco to suitably compensate the affected families. The MoEF said the approval under the provisions of Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 was for a period of 30 years subject to the possession of a valid lease by Posco.
Posco clearly had no clue as to why the MoEF sent it a reminder. "It is a routine matter. We are anyway committed to ensure the rights of the tribals in the project area," Posco India vice-president Vikas Sharan said. It is five years now for the Korean giant having signed its MoU with the Orissa government. Its progress has been tardy and witnessed some resistance from residents of Dhinkia village.
The company requires about 5525 acres of land for the entire project. It includes 4004.19 acres for the project site and the balance for the township at Paradeep. Of this 4004.19 acres 2958.79 acres is government forest land,607.74 acres is non-government forest land and 437.66 acres private land. In the Stage-I, the MoEF accorded approval for 2958.79 acres of forest land in October 2008. While conveying its agreement, the ministry asked the Orissa government to furnish its compliance report, which the latter did last year.