Almost eight years after it signed the MoU for setting up an 8 million-tonne steel mill in the coastal Orissa district of Jagatsinghpur — the biggest FDI project for the country — there’s light at the end of a long tunnel for South Korean steelmaker Posco. However, Posco may soon realise that the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ long-awaited environmental clearance is just one hurdle it has cleared.
The MoEF has not made things easier for Posco by delinking this from the port project at Jatadhar and the iron ore mine in Khandadhar hills of Sundargarh. Company officials admit in private that they will not start any work till the company gets mining clearance for Khandadhar, which has an estimated reserve of 160 million tonnes.
Soon after Posco got the environmental clearance, Orissa gave its first nod to Posco’s proposed prospecting licence for the Khandadhar mines. The mines ministry is expected to grant the prospecting licence for around 2,500 hectares of the Khandahar lease area to Posco in a few weeks.
But Posco may find getting a mining lease difficult. Khandadhar is know for its biodiversity and environmentalists and activists who successfully fought back Vedanta’s attempt to mine bauxite at the Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi may soon pitch tent there. Like Dongaria Kondhs who live in Niyamgiri, the Paudi Bhuyans in Khandadhar may pose similar challenges.
The port project too is hanging fire since May 2011, with the Orissa High Court imposing a stay on MoUs and concessionaire agreements signed by the state with corporate houses for non-major ports on the coastline. Posco’s proposed port at Jatadhari river mouth is a non-major port.
At the project site, where Orissa last July managed to get 2,700 acres for the first phase of the steel plant, it is now up against both project opponents and proponents. The people in seven villages who had received compensation last year over the demolition of betelvines and fruit-bearing trees are now demanding more compensation in the light of the new land bill passed by Parliament. They are also demanding a written assurance for direct employment in the project.
Then there are the small issues such as NGT lifting the embargo it imposed in May 2013 on felling of trees on the land acquired for the project.
Clearly the Posco plant has a long way to go.
Debabrata is a special correspondent based in Bhubaneswar
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