MoEF says its decision to grant clearance cannot be challenged
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has started hearing the appeal challenging environmental clearance granted to the controversial POSCO steel project in Odisha's Jagatsinghpur district. The hearing began on Tuesday despite the claim of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) that the clearance to the project cannot be challenged as it was granted four years ago after following due process of law.
The ministry had granted environmental clearance to the project in 2007. But the project was re-appraised in 2010-11 by its Expert Appraisal Committee after a panel appointed by the ministry to inquire into the clearances given to the project pointed out inadequacies in the earlier clearances. After the review of the report of this panel, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had issued the final order granting environmental clearance to the project with additional conditions in January last year.
Comprehensive EIA not made public
This order was challenged by Prafulla Samantray, an activist from Bhoinagar in Odisha, in the tribunal. The appellant claimed that the comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the project, which was the basis for the clearance order of 2011, was not made available to the public. What was placed before the public was a rapid EIA, on the basis of which the original clearance was given in 2007. The rapid EIA was inadequate to appraise the project of such large magnitude and it did not take into account the harmful impacts the project will have on the ecology of the surrounding area, says the appeal. It also alleged irregularities in appraisal of the project, both at the time of original clearance and its review last year.
MoEF, in its reply to the application (also filed on Tuesday), claimed that due process was followed by it while clearing the project. It said its January 2011 order was just an amendment to the original clearances and was not an environmental clearance in itself or a re-issue of environmental clearance. Since the clearance was granted to the project in 2007, much before the green tribunal was established (in October 2010), the clearance cannot be challenged, the ministry says.
However, the representatives of the appellant argued in the tribunal that the Januray 2011 order of MoEF was termed “final order” which said the environment clearance is being granted to the project and thus it can be challenged. The next hearing of the case is scheduled for February 2.
The government is yet to acquire 55 per cent of the land required for the POSCO plant and captive port sites. Residents of the area have been resisting land acquisition by creating human barricades and guarding the entry to their villages.
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