Green tribunal suspends Posco project approval

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 31 2012, 08:37am hrs
South Korean steel major Posco suffered a setback on Friday with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) under the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) suspending the environment clearance granted to its $12-billion steel project in Orissa in January 2011 till the environment ministry reviews it afresh.

The final order dated 31.01.2011 made by the MoEF shall stand suspended till such fresh review, appraisal by the expert appraisal committees (EACs) and final decision by MoEF is completed, a bench of tribunal comprising justice CV Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Agarwal held.

Posco India was granted environmental clearance for two projects, a steel-cum-captive power plant project and a captive minor port, in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa in 2007.

The MoEF, after reviewing the same, granted environmental clearance with additional conditions on January 31, 2011, which prompted environment activist Prafulla Samantray to move the tribunal seeking quashing of the clearance on the ground that it was contrary to the provisions of the EIA (environmental impact assessment) Notification 2006 and was illegal and arbitrary.

The tribunal pointed out that the memorandum of understanding between the Orissa government and Posco states that the project is for the production of 12 million tonne of steel per annum (mtpa) but the EIA report has been prepared only for 4 mtpa steel production in the first phase. We cant comment as we are yet to receive the official orders, a Posco spokesperson said.

The tribunal ruling said the MoEF should take a policy decision that in projects of such magnitude the EIA should be done for the complete project. The EIA should assess it for the full capacity right from the beginning, it said.

The NGT ruling comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs recent visit to South Korea, when he had assured President Lee Myung-bak that the project would be implemented and that there was progress on it.

In its 32-page order, the tribunal said: The provisions of EIA Notification 2006 were not followed in letter and spirit. The MoEF and particularly the respective EACs failed to consider the environmental and social implications of such a large project and relied mainly on the assurances given by the project proponent. Clarifications were though sought by EACs, but there was limited follow-up action and consideration to the points raised during public hearings.

However, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has asserted that a "very strict and transparent" procedure was followed while giving the nod and the NGTs order is not a setback to the governments green policies.

I have to go into it in detail and study the judgment and decide what further steps have to be taken... Some issues have been pointed out by NGT. Certainly, we will take a look at it, she said, adding that her mandate is to protect the environment and ensure that transparency is maintained in awarding clearance to the projects.

The green body also questioned the appointment of Meena Gupta as chairperson of the committee to review the environmental clearance, saying it showed bias due to her support for the project during her tenure as the secretary of the environment ministry.

"The report of Meena Gupta was one-sided and an eyewash. Secondly, as secretary of the MoEF at the time of grant of original ECs (environment clearances) she ought not to have been included in the committee for reviewing the original ECs as she was a party to it. Thus, the report of Meena Gupta which was accepted by the MoEF is hit by official/personal/departmental bias. In other words, she supported the decision made by her earlier. This is in gross violation of principles of natural justice. Therefore, the entire process of review is vitiated under the law, the ruling added.

When contacted, Gupta said: I dont want to comment. There are structures laid down by the government which are followed.

The tribunal also directed the environment ministry to attach specific conditions to be followed by Posco in a time-bound manner, while also setting up a special committee to monitor the compliance to environmental norms by the steel major.

The tribunal further said that the project should source water on its own instead of utilising water meant for Cuttack.