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The Posco Confusion

News Date:11-Feb-2013

Bhaskar Parichha :::::The Odisha government seems to be enmeshed over the Posco project. Like in previous occasions, this time too it is ‘two -steps- forward-one- foot -backward’. When the government resumed land acquisition a week ago for the proposed 52, ooo crore steel plant near the port town of Paradip, things seemed looking up for this contentious project. The administration was able to enter the area after a gap of one-and-a-half years although there was stiff resistance from the anti-project activists. Now comes the news that the land acquisition has been suspended and there is no word about when it will recommence. Oddly, Posco India has expressed optimism about the government getting hold of the required land in the next few days. Optimism with a tinge of salt! The big issue now and forever is: will the Posco project finally take off? TheNaveen Patnaik government’s intentions are pretty clear. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have clung on to the project for such a long time with such little progress. What adds to the hopefulness is that the Manmohan Singh government too wants the Posco project to become a reality. At the cost of being repetitive, the single claim for the Posco project is its massiveness or ‘- India’s single-largest foreign direct investment so far’ - as they pronounce. Posco requires about 2,700 acre to start construction of its integrated steel plant in stage one. The state government has already acquired 200 acres. It needs another 700 acres so that it can fulfill its commitments. But things aren’t that easy as the government thinks. With demonstration by children, women and elderly persons continuing their agitation, the government cannot use force .This being the election year and the Naveen Patnaik government is already on the election mode -mark those electoral sops announced during the past couple of days – it cannot risk a reprisal. But it wants the land acquisition process to be completed soon if not by hook by crook.Once all the 2700 crores are in place, Posco’s biggest hurdle will have been removed. According to another projection the first phase of the Posco project — could start churning out steel by 2018.The South Korean steel giant plans to start work immediately after getting possession of the 2,700 acres. The company expects production from its 8 million tonne (MT) capacity plant in the first phase roughly five years from now. Posco, which signed an agreement with Orissa to set up a 12 MT steel special economic zone at Jagatsinghpur way back in 2005,had to scale down the size of the project to 8 MT last year due to the state government’s inability to acquire the required 4,004 acres of land. It now wants to set up two 4 MT steel units. Posco’s mega project has been drawing the attention of the centre for long and the Prime Minister himself is interested to see that it gets through. And even the Koreans are not leaving any opportunity to raise this issue with Delhi .Only recently did the visiting South Korean Minister of Knowledge Economy Sukwoo Hong raise the delay in clearances for the project.Commerce minister Anand Sharma has assured that there will be a fresh review and the government is committed to the smooth off take of the steel project. There isn’t a speck of doubt that both the state and the centre are unfaltering in their approach towards the project and have shown their seriousness in the past couple of days. There are two big impediments in the South-Korean project. One, the land acquisition and two, the captive mines earmarked for the Posco.The captive mine issue, however, is hanging fire with the Supreme Court recently suggesting that the central government take a call on the licenses of all applicants afresh. In March, 2012, the environmental clearance was suspended by the National Green Tribunal after a 2011 clearance from the environment ministry. A subcommittee of the expert appraisal committee recently visited the site and has given a positive report. The process of revalidating the environment clearance (EC) for the steel unit is almost complete and the approval may come anytime along with the land. But the biggest challenge for the project is the continued agitation .The CPI is opposing the project tooth and nail. CPI national secretary and MP D Raja recently led a demonstration with anti-Posco agitators demanding complete withdrawal of police force from the proposed plant site. A large number of activists from CPM, Forward Bloc, Samajwadi Party, RJD and members from different NGOs also participated in the demonstration. The opposition Congress and BJP too joined the gherao. Social activist Swami Agnivesh was in Gobindpur to express solidarity with the agitating people. All the schools in Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages have remained empty with children taking part in the stir. Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) leader Abhay Sahu's is on indefinite fast and has questioned the legal status of the land acquisition for a foreign company without n a valid MoU. With all this, the Posco project seems to be turning into to be another ‘Narmada Bachao’ or ‘Kudankulam’! Unless the Odisha government takes the people into confidence, the project is unlikely to become a reality. A democratically- elected government can’t close its eyes when the resistance is so stiff and so many political parties are backing the agitation. ( The Writer is EDITOR of odia daily Nutan Odisha)

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