National Green Tribunal suspends January 2011 environmental clearance to the project

Villagers and activists opposing land acquisition for the proposed mega steel plant by South Korean major Posco Jagatsinghpur district have rejoiced three back-to-back blows to project.

First the State Law Department opined against renewal of the memorandum of understanding between Posco and the State government that lapsed since 2010. Then Comptroller and Auditor General of India slammed the State government alleging that Land Acquisition Act was misused by invocation of emergency clause for acquiring land for the project.

Now National Green Tribunal on Friday suspended the January 2011 environmental clearance to the project and asked Ministry of Environment and Forest to review it afresh.

“The State government has so far bulldozed every norm to facilitate land acquisition for Posco. Villagers who have been living on forestland for generations have been denied their right under Forest Rights Act. The CAG has made categorical references to the Land Acquisition Act being misused for the project. Finally, the national green tribunal rejected environment clearance,” said Abhaya Sahoo, president of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti that spearheads protest against the project.

Mr. Sahoo said, “These jolts to the project would strengthen our movement. Now our stand has been vindicated by various fora.”

Similarly, Ramakrishna Panda, a CPI leader, said, “those responsible for acquiring land for Posco project by bending norms should be punished. We demand that nodal officer of Posco project, district Collector and land acquisition officer should face punishment for the land mess.”

“The State government should not make further delay in scrapping the project. Land patches acquired from farmers should be returned,” Mr. Panda demanded.

It is to be noted that the State government has long been sitting over the proposal of giving an extension to the MoU. Views of the Law Department were sought on the issue.

The department opined that “it appears that 5 years have already expired. So, after expiry of the period of validity extension of the same may not be possible. Extension is made prospectively before expiry of the original MoU or Agreement.”

Manipulation of records

After Law Department's thumbs down to renewal of MoU, it was being contemplated to sign a tripartite agreement involving parent company Posco, Indian counterpart Posco (India) Limited and the State government.

The CAG had stated emergency Provisions of Section 17 (4) were misused and applied arbitrarily for land acquisition for Posco and five other industrial projects.

Besides, CAG found that special Land Acquisition officer (Medium Irrigation Project) Jagatsinghpur fraudulently passed award of compensation after lapse of land acquisition proceedings by manipulating records thereby depriving the land losers of higher compensation.

“The action benefited the Posco (India) Limited,” the report said. The movement against Posco project wilted a bit after police resorted to arresting movement leaders. Now with the ‘irregularities' committed to facilitate the project coming to the fore, the movement leaders have started reorganising them for another round of showdown with administration.