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Clearance to POSCO: A heavy cost for the photo-op!
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed his happiness over the re-validation of the Environmental clearance to POSCO Steel Plant in Odisha that will make the project operational in the coming weeks. He informed that the grant of mining concession to the project is also at an advance state of processing. Dr. Singh gifts new lease of life to POSCO. But how long it will survive now its in question!
The South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed her happiness over the clearances given to the project and hoped that the economic ties between the two countries will witness further growth. Then there were photo-ops and there were smiles on the faces of the delegation from the both the sides.

And what was the price that was paid for this moment of (apparent) glory for Dr. Singh and these well measured smiles around. Enormous! Environmental laws and procedures of our country have been compromised with, the judiciary has been disrespected and as a nation we have sent out a clear message that we can go to any extent to woo FDI.

Veerappa Moily, the newly anointed Minister of Environment and Forests after the sudden resignation of the Jayanti Natrajan, is in a hurry to carry forward the brief of clearing the PDI clog. Moily claims to have cleared more than one lakh core worth of projects in just 20 days. And what kind of compromises could have been made is evident from the case of POSCO.

Moily while violating many norms and throwing caution to the wind has revalidated the environmental clearance for the steel plant of POSCO. MoEF under Jairam Ramesh as the Cabinet Minister had granted Environmental Clearance to POSCO in the year 2011. Then he had violated the laws and norms, and now this revalidation of the clearance of 2011 goes a step forward violating more norms and showing utter disrespect to the judiciary.

“Jairam Ramesh had accorded environmental clearance to POSCO for a 12 million ton plant along with a captive port where as the environmental public hearing was conducted only for a 4 MTPA plant. It was a blatant violation of the Environment Protection Act. Also no EIA was conducted for the port project. This was challenged in the National Green Tribunal. NGT had suspended the EC of 2011. Till now POSCO has done EIA only for 4 million tones plant, so how Ramesh gave EC to POSCO for 12 millions tones plant along with Jatadhar port? The matter is subjudice till date. In this back drop how could Virappa Moily revalidate the EC which fundamentally was erroneous? Mr Moily has done and violated several environmental legal aspects. How Moily has separated the POSCO plant from its Jatadhar port? On what law he has done it, and again how he has given EC to POSCO for 4+4 millions tones plant?” questions Prafulla Samantaray of Odisha Lokashakti Abhijan.

Samantaya further added, “Meena Gupta Committee also had raised serious questions about the EIA. NGT had instructed that a fresh EIA should be prepared. For this purpose Manmohan Singh government was formed Paul Committees. This Committee had submitted its reports to the ministry since more than a year and a half. But the congress Govt. has not yet shared this report with the NGT. It if learnt informally that Paul Committees have also questioned many aspects of the EIA. Till date no EIA has been done for the 12 MTPA plant or no public hearing has been conducted so far for it. So how come Mr. Moily immediately after taking charge of the office so hurriedly revalidated an EC that was not valid at all in the first place? This blatant violation of environment laws by Moily will challenge in NGT. So hurriedly on what capacity he has has given this EC to POSCO and what laws he has followed for this clearance? In this EC to POSCO Moily has done many illegalities knowingly or unknowingly but its sure this EC have a major role for the upcoming Lok Sabha elaction. Both the Congress and BJD party will collect political tips for coming election,” quipped Prafulla Samantaray.

Revalidation of the Environmental clearance to POSCO while a case on forest conservation is still pending in the National Green Tribunal, has raised many questions on the role of the MoEF and the intentions of the government both the Centre and the state. 2011 clearance was suspended by the National Green Tribunal on the ground that the concerns raised by the environmental groups need to be addressed. Now the million dollar question is whether these concerns have been addressed or not? And who will be the competent authority to ascertain it other than the NGT? So without the nod of the NGT this Environmental Clearance does not mean much.

This revalidation of the earlier Environmental Clearance stays clear of the Port project. So now we have a Steel Plant Project that has been cleared (or revalidated) without the mines clearance and the clearance for the port that is integral to the plant as per the claims by POSCO. Only the fools could believe that POSCO steel plant will run without the mines and the captive port.

Being an integrated project, the environmental clearance should have been accorded after considering all the components together. Environmental clearance is about weighing the environmental impact as against the developmental benefits. Then why this clearance to the POSCO plant in instalments? This has a finer reading to it as well.

While clearing only one component, there is an assumption that any way the mines and the port will get the clearance. If the MoEF fosters such ideas, then who is the guardian of environment for our country?

It is a different matter that such preposterousness is highly detrimental for the industrial environment as well. Mining clearance to Vedanta is a case in point. What for the MoEF is there? To safeguard the environment or to operate the green gate to allow some and disallow some as per the whims of the government! The hurried manner in which Mr. Moily has been sanctioning the project throwing all propriety to the wind, also compelled the analysts to think afresh about reason for the sudden resignation of Ms. Natrajan.

Medha Patkar says, “Ms. Jayanti Natrajan’s resignation and Moily’s appointment as the Cabinet Minister of MoEF is a political conspiracy to accord clearance to POSCO. She has said.”The environmentalists are discussing that Ms. Natrajan had questioned many ligal aspects of the EIA. May be her conscience did not allow her to accord the environmental clearance to POSCO resulting in her ouster and appointment of Mr. Moily keeping the forthcoming elections in mind.”

Sudhir Patnaik, the editor of Samadrusti fortnight says, “Dear Prime Minister do you know through this Khandadhar mining POSCO will earn profit per annum is Rs. 3 Lakhs Crore? It means the people of Odisha will pay a heavy price for POSCO’s profit and Odisha’s natural wealth will be looting by FDI gimmick. Why Odisha will lose such huge revenue for a company. And its surprise that how and why Naveen Patnaik support silently to this type of business? I think the elected government of the nation have betrayed the trust of their nationals when they are shamelessly offering a patch of fertile land against the wishes of the people happily inhabiting it to the head of a visiting nation without realizing its implication for our democracy in the long run. I strongly condemn the content of the joint press conference in which the Indian PM spoke along with the South Korean President assuring the latter that the POSCO project in Odisha would to take off soon. It appears as if colonialism is returning without resistance rather with submission and surrender by the representatives of the people who are bound by the constitution to protect their life, their land and their livelihood.”

It seems that henceforth it will be POSCO in the concerned area who will play the guardian. As SEZ status is to be accorded to POSCO one can well imagine the situation. The Prime Minister in his statement has confirmed this as “I conveyed to the President Park our hope that this project will confirm that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand.”

Outsourcing environmental protection of the country to POSCO? It is not only the environment that is being led to the sacrificing altar. A large iron ore mine in Khanadhar also is being handed over to POSCO. In a perfectly coordinated action the Odisha government has now approved the compliance report for Khandadhar that was pending with the state government since about a year. It was done a week after MoEF’s revalidation and a few days before the arrival of the South Korean President.

The state government of Odisha has declared that it has given permission for the prospecting license (PL) for POSCO. It is alleged that the state was not giving permission for the PL out of the fear of forest conservation act violation, and the case on tree felling pending in NGT.

But, suddenly empowered by some strange force, the state government has given the PL with the assumption that there will not be any problem from the forest front. Was it a fooling of the South Korean delegation, or fooling of we, the Indians? Only time will say who was fooled.

But, it is for sure that the people of Odisha are being fooled by giving of the captive mines to POSCO. Medha Patkar has alleged that by this people of Odisha will lost 3 lakh cores annually. She wonders whether Naveen Patnaik is aware of this or not. Obviously, Mr. Naveen Patnaik should be aware of it being the Chief Minister of Odisha, but all awareness does not lead to action. But the political opponents allege that the election fund is the compulsion for both the State and Union government to be in a hurry other than the visit of the South Korean President.

These allegations apart the condition of the MoEF to POSCO regarding spending 5% of the project investment as ‘enterprise social commitments (ESC) has reasons enough to raise eyebrows. In the first place why such an arrangement is being worked out ? Is it a practice with other projects? Is it the speed money? Is it the official PC (that it is being 5%)?

Or is something is being seriously compromised that that is why this money is there. That has been a kind of practice in past as well. What is this compromise the sell off of the environmental concerns? POSCO has not yet agreed to is a different matter. But, there being no clear auditing procedure under India’s corporate laws for transparency as well as to track the corporate social responsibility spends of overseas corporations. So who knows where all this money will find its way to.

The biggest blow the MoEF and the government of Odisha has delivered in the recent days is that to the judiciary. It seems that the MoEF has decided to wage a war against the judiciary by not respecting its orders. The Supreme Court of India had ordered that the Union government should appoint a regulator for giving the environmental clearances. That the MoEF did not respect. Is also has not bothered about the pending case in the National Green Tribunal and has gone ahead with the clearance process. Odisha government too has given the PL without bothering about the case.

Odisha officials say the delay in the country's largest foreign direct investment project is partly on accountof South Korean steelmaker POSCO's reluctance to help create a favourable environment. Officials blame POSCO  INDIA for not helping its own cause.

"They are reluctant to spend any money on corporate social responsibility or plantation work until all clearances are in place. It's frustrating because it doesn't really help their cause," a senior state official said, asking not to be named.

The state had asked the steelmaker to spend on projects - such as building roads and housing for those to be displaced and plantation work required as per its green clearances - that could pass for CSR and periphery development. POSCO India, while willing, hasn't started any of it waiting for its mega steel project to get key clearance and the right to prospect iron-ore reserve identified for the steel plant.

 One  POSCO top officials, making anonymity said,  "Our philosophy, ideology and nature of work is very different. We do CSR activities around the world, Indian will be no exception. We were under the impression that a progress of a project is not directly linked to CSR. We now understand that CSR can be livelihood project, but things have to move on the right track. January has seen some progress: the virgin 200 million tonne iron-ore reserve that POSCO hopes to mine has been recommended again by the state for prospecting.”
 
What message does the recent development sends out? May be - with the impending elections, urgent need for diplomatic maneuvering and the need for the FDI for which we as a nation can stoop to any extent- is the message.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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