21 tribals vs 12 mn tonnes of steel

Both Posco and the Orissa government said there were no tribals on the land for Posco’s 12 mn tonne steel plant. The presence of 21 tribals in the voters list has hit their credibility and probably the plant as well

A 4-member environment ministry committee has recommended that the environmental clearances given to Posco be revoked for the violation of existing laws, for serious lapses and suppression of facts. As always, we try to explain the issues in a simple Question & Answer format that makes complex issues more accessible to our readers.

How big is the Posco project?

Posco’s MoU with the Orissa government in June 2005 envisages setting up India’s largest iron and steel plant—12 million tonnes equals what 6 PSU plants (Bhilai, Bokaro, Durgapur, Rourkela, Burnpur and Salem) produce. The project is to be located in Kujang tehsil of Jagatsinghpur district. Most of the steel will be exported and a captive port is to be set up about 12 km south of Paradip port. The project also involves a captive power plant and a host of related infrastructure like township development. At $12 billion, this is India’s largest FDI till date.

What progress has been made so far?

None. It got major clearances in 2007 but the approval for the use of forest land came only in December 2009. The company began acquiring land last July but after the NC Saxena report on implementing the Forest Rights Act in Orissa (like for bauxite mining by Vedanta in Niyamgiri), which pointed to violations at the Posco site, the environment ministry asked Posco, on August 6, to stop all work till further directions.

What are the environmental issues?

They relate to forests, to the Coastal Zone Regulations (CRZ) and the environment clearance.

What is the forest issue?

More than 75% of the project’s 1,620.49 ha is forest land. Using this for ‘non-forest purposes’ requires Central approval under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. In 2008, the Forest Rights Act also became operational, which gave individuals and communities dependent on forests not just a right over the forests, but also the right to protect and conserve these forests. This means that the project requires forest-dwelling communities to agree to Posco using the land. Posco’s December 2009 forest clearance was made conditional in January 2010, after it was alleged that the FRA procedures had not been followed.

And the other ones?

Posco’s port got environmental and CRZ clearance in May 2007 and the...