An expert committee of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has sought complete design change of POSCO steel project in Odisha before the developer can apply for a fresh environment clearance. Pointing out that the project did not comply with the several conditions imposed on at the time of grant of the earlier environment clearance, the committee has also asked POSCO to carry out fresh studies on its impact on the environment, livelihood of coastal communities, as well as the project’s water supply, drainage and waste disposal systems.
The committee, headed by former bureaucrat K Roy Paul, was formed on the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The tribunal had suspended the final clearance granted to the project in March last year and had asked for a fresh review of the project. The committee submitted its report to the ministry in October last year. The report is yet to be made public by the ministry, but it has been accessed by activists through Right to Information application.
What necessitated new plans
According to the committee report, the project proponents have decided that they will reduce the project area by leaving out most of the private land. Originally, the project area proposed by the company was about 4,004 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare). This included 3,097 acres of forestland and 907 acres of private land. However, the company has not yet acquired the private land as people in villages such as Gobindpur and Dhinkia have been aggressively protesting against the land acquisition.
The committee has asked the project proponents to submit a revised layout plan according to the reduced requirement of land. “The environment impact should be reassessed for the revised layout plan with at least one-month current baseline data for all the components of the environment and submitted to MoEF for approval,” says the committee’s report.
The committee has also pointed out that several studies which should have been undertaken by the project proponents have not been completed, including periodic studies on shoreline changes and water availability. The impact on the local fishing community in terms of the economic losses it would incur and its mitigation, and resettlement and rehabilitation had not been assessed. The project also needed a marine environment conservation plan, oil spill management plan and a comprehensive area drainage study that takes into account topography and history of floods and cyclones of the region.
The project was first given environmental clearance in 2007 on the basis of a rapid environmental impact assessment. But the project was re-appraised in 2010-11 by the environment ministry following complaints from activists. A four-member committee appointed by the ministry to inquire into the clearances had submitted two reports in 2010, which pointed out inadequacies in the earlier clearances. The ministry, instead of quashing the earlier clearances, added a few more conditions for compliance in its final approval to the project in January 2010.