Right lessons

The final clearance given by the Union ministry of environment and forests for the South Korean company Posco’s Rs 54,000 crore integrated steel plant in Orissa should cheer the industry and boost the climate of investment in the country. The biggest foreign investment project in the country has for years been mired in controversy and has suffered many setbacks. While the state government was obviously keen on the project, it had invited strong opposition from many quarters, mainly for environmental reasons. The main point of objection was about using 1,253 hectares of forest land to locate the project. The argument was that the Orissa government by agreeing to locate the steel plant there, had violated the Forest Rights Act and denied tribals and forest dwellers their legal and legitimate land rights.  Though the ministry had granted environmental clearance for the project in January with some riders, fresh issues concerning land rights had come up  since. 

These have also been cleared now with the ministry finding that these objections are not valid and could perhaps have been based on fake documents or inspired by the strong anti-Posco lobby. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has chosen to accept the state government’s version. The ministry has also imposed certain conditions on the company  which were not mentioned earlier. These include a ban on iron ore export and a commitment on the part of the company to bear the cost of regeneration of an equivalent amount of degraded forest land. The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti  (PPSS), which has actively and consistently opposed the project, is obviously not happy and has vowed to continue its fight. But it seems the way has been finally cleared for the project.

The debate on Posco and the campaign against it has helped in creating a better understanding of the implications of such projects. The long resistance and the points raised therein enabled the government to incorporate a number of safeguards in the project in order to protect the environment and livelihoods of people. These lessons will be relevant and useful for future projects. The Posco agreement was signed in 2005 and it took six years to reach the stage of final clearance. The agreement  expired last year and has to be renewed now. The Posco experience may help to avoid such long delays in future.

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