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National Green Tribunal Orders Status Quo on Tree Felling at Posco Site

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 29th May, 2013

The National Green Tribunal has ordered a status quo on tree and vine felling on the site of Posco's steel plant in Odisha until a decision is taken on its lapsed environmental clearance.

This is yet another blow to the South Korean steelmaker's much delayed steel project. In recent months, the state government had intensified its efforts to hand over 2,700 acres for a smaller 8 million tonne plant. The State Industrial Development Corporation has acquired more than 2,000 acres, of this 1704 acres is now in the possession of Posco India.

 The Posco project has been caught in a net of problems over its chosen site, largely 'regarded forest land' that villagers claimed they were dependent on for generations. It first received an environment clearance for five years in 2007. Later, a committee looking into forest rights backed the villagers' claims advising the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) to withdraw its clearance. The ministry in 2010 sent another team which was divided in its opinion. In 2011, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh allowed the project with additional conditions and with a safeguard from the state that the forest rights laws would be implemented.

Last March, the NGT, acting on a plea filed by activist Prafulla Samantray, had thrown out the 2011 conditional clearance and had asked for a review. Yet another panel, Roy Paul Committee, constituted by the MoEF, has submitted it report. The Expert Appraisal Committee is yet to decide on this committee's observations as well as on the revalidation of now lapsed 2007 clearance.

When contacted, Posco India spokesperson said that he is yet to see the order.

Environment lawyer Ritwik Datta, who argued Samatray's case, said that they had also argued for a status quo, until a final stage II forest clearance was granted to the project.

Samantray's NGO Lok Shakti Abhiyan reported another small victory in Norway recently. The NGO along with three others, in October 2012, had complained to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of a breach of its guidelines by parent company Posco, and its investors, the Dutch pension Fund ABP and its administrator, and the Norwegian Bank Investment Management (NBIM) that manages the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, or Norway's Government Pension Fund Global. In a statement issued on May 27, OECD's Norwegian National Contact Point (NNCP) has reprimanded NBIM for not cooperating. It further advised NBIM to ask Posco to set up an appropriate grievance mechanism for any human rights violations that may have occurred. "If the complaints are well-founded, NBIM should use its influence, alone or together with other minority shareholders, to persuade Posco to strengthen its engagement with all stakeholders and to address their concerns" says the NNCP statement.