Kerala Forest Minister Benoy Viswam has come out strongly against the POSCO project in Orissa and the conditional clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the project.

The Minister raised the issue with the Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during the inaugural session of the Southern Forest Ministers here on Sunday. Mr. Ramesh’s reply was that the Union Minister should also exercise his brains (while pushing for the environment).

Mr. Viswam told The Hindu that the Union Minister was hinting at the pressure he faced from the Prime Minister’s Office. “Mr. Ramesh had to surrender to the pressure.”

Mr. Viswam maintained that the clearance granted to the POSCO project involving construction of a steel plant and captive port went against the pro-environment stand adopted by Mr. Ramesh in several other issues. It had affected the image of the Union Minister. Forest land was being surrendered to cater to corporate greed. This was a matter of national concern.

In a letter to the Union Minister earlier, Mr. Viswam had said the impact of the project such as water and air pollution had not been evaluated while granting sanction. All clearances had been obtained by flouting the laws of the land. The rights of the tribal community and conservation of forest wealth were all at stake. The project was sure to cause environmental devastation particularly water and air pollution and damage to the coast areas. Besides, there was the possibility of industrial disasters occurring in the event of cyclones.

The National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) has also come out against the project describing the clearance as a sell out to economic interest at the cost of not only the environment but also the lives and livelihoods of the fishing community.

“It is indeed ironical that the Minister, instead of protecting the interest of the people has surrendered the same to the company,” said NFF chairperson Matanhy Saldanha said in a statement.

The NFF pointed out that the Union Minister had asked the company to undertake a detailed assessment of the impact of the captive minor port on the fishing community and the resultant economic losses. “It is living in a fool’s paradise to expect the very company that is seeking to displace the fishing community to give a realistic assessment of the impact its project would have on them,” he said.

He noted that POSCO has been asked to submit a Marine Environment Conservation Plan, when in reality the ministry should have prepared such a plan and got the company to implement it.

“Till this is done, the company should not be allowed to go ahead with its project and the government of Orissa should not be permitted to transfer the forest land,” demanded Mr. Saldanha.

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