Days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured South Korea that efforts were under way for an early implementation of the POSCO project in Orissa,fresh uncertainty has emerged for the steel giants plans. The National Green Tribunal today suspended the environment clearance granted last year,and directed the environment ministry to carry out a fresh review of the project to set up the 12 million tonne per annum-capacity iron and steel plant.
The environmental clearance would be in abeyance until the review is completed,the tribunal ordered. The review would need to address the observations/apprehensions raised by a four-member committee that looked into environmental aspects of the $ 12 billion (over Rs 50,000 crore) project in 2010 following protests at the site. That committee had given a split report with three members recommending that the original environmental clearance granted in 2007 be cancelled. The fourth member,former environment secretary Meena Gupta during whose tenure the original clearances had been granted,had sought some additional conditions.
The tribunal bench comprising Justice C V Ramulu and Dr Devendra Kumar Agarwal held that Guptas findings were definitely hit by personal/official/departmental bias,in other words she supported the decision made by her earlier. This is a gross violation of principles of natural justice. Therefore,the entire process of review is vitiated under law.
POSCO or the central government can appeal the order in the Supreme Court. Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said that her ministry was yet to see the order and had not yet decided on the next step.