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Posco gets key environmental clearance to begin acquiring land

South Korean steel giant Pohang Steel Company (Posco) has received the much-awaited Stage II forest diversion clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its Rs 54,000-crore....

Written by Priyadarshi Siddhanta | New Delhi | Bhubaneswar |
January 2, 2010 3:49:47 am

South Korean steel giant Pohang Steel Company (Posco) has received the much-awaited Stage II forest diversion clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for its Rs 54,000-crore,12-million tonne integrated steel project in Orissa.

In a communication earlier this week,the Ministry permitted diversion of 1,253.225 hectares of forest land for Posco India to set up an integrated steel plant and a captive port. The company requires a total of 5,525 acres,of which 4,004.19 acres is needed for the project site and the balance for the township at Paradeep in Orissa.

Of this 4,004.19 acres,437.66 acres is private land,607.74 acres is non-forest government land,and 2,958.79 acres is state forest land.

The Centre had granted the Stage I environmental clearance to Posco India in October 2008. “It (the Stage II clearance) is a very positive forward movement in the progress of the project,” Vikas Sharan,Vice-President,Posco India,told The Indian Express. “The Stage II clearance was given after the company deposited Rs 105 crore with the state towards compensatory afforestation. The MoEF’s nod came two days ago,” said its general manager Simanta Mohanty,adding this paved the way for the start of the handing over of the land by the state government.

Posco needs 4,004.19 acres for its project in Jagastsinghpur district of Orissa. Of the total required area,2,958 acres was marked as village forest and protected forest in state government records. Though the company signed an MoU with the state in June 2005,the latter has not been able to procure any land due to public opposition since much of the area was forest land and needed to be diverted for non-forest use.

While building the steel plant,Posco India would need to uproot  279,066 trees. The company has offered to grow two million trees in the project site area and also undertake compensatory afforestation in the districts of Jagatsinghpur,Cuttack and Jajpur,Mohanty said.

Despite the Stage II clearance,there’s no certainty if the project can take off as per the company’s plans. For the last four years,people in five villages in the project site have opposed the construction of the plant saying it would take away their homes and livelihood. In August last year,there were doubts over the project after Union Mines Minister B K Handique said the company may move out of its present site to a different one there. Though plans were afoot to get South Korean president Lee Myung Bak to the project site for a “ribbon-cutting ceremony” on January 26,the plan was shelved after the state government’s fears of a “law and order” problem in the area by anti-Posco activists.

“We are ready to meet the Orissa government officials and discuss the problems threadbare with a view to ironing out the differences,” said a steel ministry official and pointed out that Posco has been advised to involve locals in dealing with the vexed land acquisition issue. “It is not that others are not acquiring land. They are doing so,so why can’t Posco? We guess they need to look afresh at their land strategy and try and rope in local people with impeccable credentials to sort out issues,” he said.

The project has been mired in controversy from the day Posco inked the MoU with Orissa in 2005. It faced hostile protests from local gram panchayats over its land acquisition efforts. Another problem was getting prospecting licence from the Centre for Khandadhar mines. In 2006,after the state asked the Centre to grant the licence,the latter asked it to re-consider its recommendation. Now the matter is in the Orissa High Court.

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