Essar Steel was on Monday permitted by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to start construction for laying a portion of its 253-km long slurry pipeline to transport iron ore from its steel beneficiation plant in Keonjhar district of Odisha to another unit in Paradeep.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar made it clear that Essar is allowed to begin work only on 0.723 hectares of forest land in the state for which it has received clearance from the authorities.

The order came on an application of Essar which informed the bench that it has received forest clearance (FC) to commence work in 0.723 hectares of land and sought that the tribunal’s December 19, 2012 order prohibiting any construction without FC be modified and the company be allowed to start work at its cost.

Essar also informed the bench that till date it has already laid 227 km of the pipeline and is awaiting FC for other sections of project site to complete the work.

Meanwhile, senior advocate Raj Panjwani appearing for petitioner Sarbeshwar Mishra argued that unless FC is granted for all components of the project, Essar should not be allowed to start the work which the NGT had halted last year for want of clearance.

After hearing contentions of both sides, the bench listed the matter for final arguments on December 11 and 12.

The 253-km long slurry transportation system, envisaged from beneficiation plant to Paradeep, will traverse through four Odisha districts of Keonjhar, Jajpur, Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur and will use the water from river Baitrani.

Beneficiation is the process of removing impurities from the ore.

Mr. Mishra in his petition has challenged as “illegal, arbitrary and unreasonable” the decision of the Centre and the Odisha government to allow Essar to draw water from the river.

He alleged that Essar was drawing water from the river without forest clearance to facilitate iron ore transportation from its plant to another unit in Paradeep.

On his petition, the tribunal had in December last year restrained Essar from using the river water contrary to the agreement between it and the state government and had also directed it to not go ahead with the project without obtaining forest clearance.

According to Mr. Mishra, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Essar and Odisha government on April 21, 2005 to set up a steel plant at Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district and as part of the project the industry also proposes to set up a 10.7 MTPA(million tonnes per annum)-capacity iron ore beneficiation plant at village Dubuna in the district of Keonjhar, Odisha.