Still need steel

The environmental clearances South Korean steel major Posco got in have been found faulty and it has cast a shadow on the future of the giant project. A four-member panel set up by environment ministry has recommended by a majority that all clearances should be scrapped and the ministry has ordered a review. Vedanta’s bauxite mining project at Niyamagiri had run into trouble some weeks ago. The ministry has ordered a review of a number of other smaller projects also. In most of these cases the issue is the same.

Mandatory environmental clearances were given to projects casually on political or other considerations. There are many violations of laws and environmental guidelines. It is also possible that some of the clearances were issued by those who did not understand the implications of their action. The importance of environment is only being realised now.

The violation of laws in the Posco project should certainly be rectified. The minority view in the committee, given by a former Union environment secretary, calling for a fresh impact study seems to be more reasonable. This view also called for additional conditionalities and compliance on the part of the company. This line of thinking can be pursued in the best interests of both environment and the industry. The over Rs 50,000 crore project, the single-largest foreign investment proposal in the country, should not be stalled. Various controversies have attended it in the last five years.  It should be possible to find a compromise involving the state government, Posco and others who have a stake. It has been observed that information was suppressed, evidence was cooked up and records altered to give clearances. These are serious issues. But the answer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Much of the land required for the project is government-owned. Acquisition may not therefore be a major problem. It can be ensured that the forest-dwellers, who will be affected, are adequately compensated and rehabilitated. Compensatory afforestation can be done to make good the loss of wooded areas. The company should be made to undertake these responsibilities as part of the project cost. An either-or policy in the matter is counter-productive. The environment needs to be protected and demands for industrialisation should be given importance. Unfortunately there is a fundamentalist stance developing on environmental issues. This is unfortunate.

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