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Will Posco happen ?

News Date:10-Jun-2013

Bhaskar Parichha With Posco India CMD Yong-Won Yoon holding a discussion with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik three days ago, things for the controversial steel project may be looking a bit buoyant .But one can’t be too hopeful about the Posco’s business enterprise in Odisha given the fact that the roadblocks are too many and they keep coming from one side or the other. One of the most contentious and yet exalted steel projects in the country, Posco’s tryst with Odisha has been one of turbulence and justifiably so. Posco ever reluctant to give up so easily too is fixed up with the project. One major achievement has been the Odisha government’s triumph in getting hold of the land for Posco's 8 mtpa Greenfield steel plant near Paradip, thanks to the breather the Supreme Court judgment gave to the South Korean steel major. The May 10 Supreme Court order while setting aside the Orissa High Court ruling which had quashed the State Government’s petition for prospecting licence to Posco gave a clear indication that the Union government will take a decision on the proposed iron ore mining in Khandadhar hills in Sundergarh district. The next big question is the renewal of the MoU.’We are awaiting a call from the state administration for renewal of the MoU’ was what Yoon said after he emerged out of the key meeting with Chief Minister. Reportedly, the contract will soon go to the CM’s table and this time it is to be a fresh one - no renewals and no rehashes. The Memorandum of Understanding with Posco India has lapsed since June 22, 2010and in these two years much water has flown down the Mahanadi with nothing much to write home about. According to latest reports, demolition of betel vines has almost reached the final stage and the government has already acquired 2,500 acres of land out of 2,700 acres- not a mean feat since the anti-Posco struggle has been rearing its head intermittently. With the government making its intention clear that the land will soon be handed over to the company, one major headache may be over. But problems lay elsewhere. Only recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asking both Government of India and the Odisha government to stop cutting of trees at the project site on environmental grounds, boosting the sentiment of the anti-Posco brigade.How much impact this tribunal order will have is difficult to fathom. The district administration has axed about 15,000 trees in Gobindpur village and dismantled about 350 betel vines. As if that isn’t enough, a fresh PIL has been filed by villagers of Gobindapur in Orissa high court seeking quashing of the forest and environment clearances granted by the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF). They have alleged that the forest and environment clearances were granted to Posco in a fraudulent manner without proper verification. Their charge is that the district officers never visited the spot nor conducted any thorough study of the affected area before submitting their report to the centre. They further suspected that forest clearance granted to the company contravened the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and no meticulous scientific study has been made to know about the threatening impact of the proposed steel plant on the environment. Yet another predicament for the Posco is Norway's oil fund, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. An independent committee set up to safeguard OECD ethical guidelines has pointed to the fund's investment in Posco saying the fund was not doing enough to protect against human rights breaches. Several non-governmental organizations say the plant in Odisha would displace more than 20,000 people, among them indigenous people who receive special legal protection. The committee has said that the fund had "failed to take appropriate steps to prevent or mitigate negative human rights and environmental impacts in connection with its investment in Posco.Although Posco says on its website that it has been highly sensitive to the human rights of the locals, the issue has been drawing international headlines. So, the fate of the Posco project - the largest single company FDI inflow into India, remains as uncertain as it was first conceived some twenty years ago during the Biju Patnaik government. Even after there has been a downsizing of the project resulting in smaller investment, the obstacles are unlikely to go away so soon. The October deadline to begin construction looks very much like a pipe dream. Many things can happen between the arrival of the monsoon and the festive mood that will pick up immediately after the tropical rains, including the general elections.

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