Posco effect

The pressures of impending elections, fears of a diplomatic stalemate ahead of South Korean president Park Geun Hye’s visit and industrial growth imperatives have led to the Posco project’s standalone environmental clearance being renewed by minister Veerappa Moily, who has taken charge of environment and forests along with petroleum portfolio. Moily’s brief was to unclog the project pipeline.

This, he has done by freeing up projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore from the pressures of environmental probity in the last 20 days. Nonetheless, while the Posco project is the largest FDI tranche coming into India, the merits underlying objections to the project, especially, felling of trees and denudation of cultivable land -- raised by environmentalists, the National Green Tribunal and local populations in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district -- seem to have been glossed over once again.

The environment ministry has now sought to delink other components like mines and ports of the integrated project from its review of the main steel plant. Such an approach is clearly non sequitur and industrial and political expediency at its hastiest. Comprehensive impact studies of largescale mining projects demand thorough appraisals of the community effects of not just the project but also its entire downstream supply chain. While the government has asked Posco to spend 5 per cent of its total investment on social commitments in areas where it will operate, there is clearly no auditing procedure under India’s corporate laws to transparently track the corporate social responsibility spends of overseas corporations.

The Khandadhar iron ore project was intended to be the link for Posco’s steel plant for which environmental clearances were pending. The Odisha government has now approved the compliance report for Khandadhar in the hope that the government will secure forest clearances. This greenwashes the project and weakens the case of the National Green Tribunal and villagers of Dhinkia and Gobindpur panchayats who have steadfastly opposed the steel project, besides bypassing the Tribunal’s 2012 suspension of the environmental ministry’s earlier approval for the project.

Before granting a prospecting licence to Posco on the unproved assumption that the company’s operations will be squeaky clean, it would be worthwhile for Moily to re-examine the implicit environmental negatives for Jagatsinghpur and Khandadhar. And, also answer why forest clearance for Vedanta’s Niyamgiri project can be suspended after village councils there opposed approvals for the project, while Posco gets a clearance when the Green Tribunal, village groups and the public are clearly wary of the consequences.

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