The principle of sustainable development cannot be ignored, the court said
There was violence in Dhinkia and other villages in the area last year, as the authorities moved in to acquire land. Photo: @sudarsandasINC / Twitter
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has suspended the environmental clearance for Jindal Steel Works’ (JSW) mega project at the port of Paradip in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district citing a number of reasons.
A four-judge bench of the NGT comprising of Adarsh Kumar Goel, Sudhir Agarwal, Amit Sthalekar and Senthil Vel noted in their order dated March 20, 2023:
We are conscious that the project involves huge investment. At the same time, principle of sustainable development cannot be ignored.
They ordered that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) reconsider the matter and take a decision with three months until which the environmental clearances will remain suspended.
Last year, activists Prafulla Samantra and Sarit Barpanda had moved court against the clearance granted to the project, opposing it on the grounds of being harmful for the environment.
Down To Earth reached out to Samantra but was not able to get a response.
The project by JSW aims to build a Greenfield Integrated Steel Plant (ISP) of capacity of 13.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) crude steel with a l0 MTPA Cement grinding unit and a 900 MW Captive Power Plant.
This is part of an interlinked project for setting up of an all-weather, multi-cargo, greenfield captive jetty(ies) of handling capacity of 52 MTPA at Jatadhari Muhan River, near Paradip Port in Jagatsinghpur district.
The project will cost Rs 65,000 crore.
It will benefit the Centre and the Odisha government to the extent of more than Rs 5,000 crore over 13 years by way of taxes and generating employment for 15,000 workers in the different phases of construction and operation, it has been claimed.
“Some 12,000 workers will be employed and 45,000 will get indirect employment. Steel complex will be hub for other ancillary activities. Captive power plant can be part of ISP and is to be considered part of metallurgical industries,” a copy of the order described.
But Samantray and Barpanda had said in their applications that “water will be sourced from the river Mahanadi, which is source of water supply to the inhabitants, apart from adding pollution to the already polluted area, result in reducing forest cover and affect flora and fauna in eco sensitive area”.
The land where the JSW project is to come up, was earlier the proposed site of a project by South Korean firm, POSCO. It had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Odisha government to this effect in the 2000s. However, a decade-long agitation saw the Korean firm finally the abandon the project in 2017.
The MoEF&CC granted permission to the project in April last year. The area also saw violent protests, demonstrations and clashes as the authorities moved in to inquire land in the local villages such as Dhinkia and others.
The project proponents have contended that they have submitted all necessary documents. The ISP is 12 kilometres. and not half a km from Paradip Port.
They have claimed that a provision has been made for the rehabilitation of families likely to be displaced and also for their medical treatment and also increasing business and employment opportunity.
But the bench disagreed.
“Permissibility of sourcing water from Mahanadi when drinking water is scarce has not been duly evaluated. The observation with regard to scarcity of water can be seen in the minutes of the meeting dated 18.05.2021. The recommendation accepting the contra stand of the PP is not based on independent evaluation,” the judges wrote.
They added that the jetty is located within 500 meters of the Paradip Port which is unnecessary as opined in the report submitted by Meena Gupta, former environment secretary.
Also, the conditions stipulated in the environmental clearance granted to POSCO will have to be considered, in case environmental clearances are to be granted, the court ruled.
“We are happy that our voice has been paid heed to at last,” Prashant Paikaray, who led the protests against the POSCO plant, told Down To Earth.
He said most of the area where the JSW Project is to come up, was found to be forestland by the Meena Gupta Committee set up in the wake of the POSCO agitation.
“The land belongs to the local people in accordance with the sections of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Unfortunately, as the Meena Gupta Committee noted, FRA has not been implemented properly in this area. The Odisha government should seriously consider implementing FRA in this region,” Paikaray said.
He also criticised the government for allowing the project in the first place. “It was proved during the POSCO agitation that the land belongs to the people living there. Despite that and POSCO abandoning the project, the Odisha government brought in another one. Why is that?”Paikaray asked.
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