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Posco bagged Environment Clearance

"After the environmental clearance Posco India is now looking for permission from government of India for forest diversion at its project site as about 3,566 acres out of the 4,004 acre land marked for the project comes under forest area."

Basudev Mahapatra : August 8, 2007

Posco’s $12 billion steel project near Paradeep got environmental clearance from the ministry of forests and environment. Korean steel major Posco is quite optimistic with this development  seems to be hopeful now as it has come out successful in obtaining the environmental clearance from government of India as it may end their long wait to jump into action for the $12-billion Orissa project. It is already two years since the South Korean steel major has signed the MoU with government of Orissa.

After the environmental clearance Posco India is now looking for permission from government of India for forest diversion at its project site as about 3,566 acres out of the 4,004 acre land marked for the project comes under forest area. To make Posco set its project on the proposed land, this vast forest land has to be de-notified. A proposal in this regard has been approved by the state government and forwarded to the centre for approval. “We hope to start preparatory work at the project site from October. The government has assured us that forest diversion clearance for the project land would be given soon. Once we get this approval, the land transfer process could be restarted at the earliest,” an optimistic Posco India Chairman and Managing Director Soung Sik Cho told during his Orissa visit.

Once it is done in the case of Posco, it may become a model for other industries and corporate groups that are facing public agitation for destroying forests to set their industries. So such a proposal might have been pursued by government of Orissa with a futuristic perspective as Sterlite’s Vedanta Alumina is facing strong protest in this regard in Lanjigarh of Kalahandi and Anil Agrawal’s Vedanta Foundation is all set to start its work for the proposed Vedanta University adjacent to Balukhand Forests and Sand Deer Sanctuary beside Puri-Konark Marine Drive.

Even though government makes the road clean, it may not be an easy sail for Posco to set its 12 MTPA project within the scheduled time frame. Land acquisition would still come out as the biggest problem although Posco has announced to start its construction work on 400 acres of land that belong to the state government and are non-forest lands. Most of the private land owners oppose Posco project and do not give their land to the company, most of the government lands are forest lands and under the virtual control of local people who use the lands for agriculture.

In the mean time, the directive from PMO stating strongly that apart from compensation money, jobs under rehabilitation schemes would be offered to members of the families who lose their house or homestead land or 100% of farm lands and to families who lose any amount of farmland below 100%. Such a decision by the PMO is shocking because primarily lands should be substituted with jobs as it has been the main source of livelihood. How can the company deny a job to the family whose livelihood source is sacrificed for it?

So neither the private land owners nor the farmers in virtual possession of the government lands come forward to hand over their farmland for the Posco Project. Admitting that public protests delayed the entire process of land acquisition and thereby delaying the project Mr. Cho said, “We are already late by one year from our earlier schedule. However, things are moving faster now and we hope to put in place the first phase of 4 million ton capacity plant by 2011”.

When opposition to land acquisition for POSCO-India's proposed steel plant project continues at paradeep, people, mostly tribals, living in and around Khandadhar mountain range have started opposing the State government's recommendation to the centre for leasing out Khandadhar iron ore mines to the Korean company with a prospecting license. Former Union Minister and BJP leader Juel Oram strongly reacted against such a move by the government and didn’t bother to pass harsh comments on CM Naveen Pattnaik and put in public the demand for a CBI probe. It’s because BJP is a partner of the ruling coalition government, Juel was forced by national party leadership to keep quite and apologize for passing such comment.

But the Pahadi Bhuyan, Munda and other tribals of Khandadhar are not quite. They strongly oppose the mine transfer move by the government and threat to keep the fight on till they are finished because they coexist with Khandadhar hill range and the rain forests. That is part of their life. The Khandadhar River that originates from this point is the only source of irrigation and drinking water for the trbal communities living in and around it. The rain forest rich in flora and fauna provide livelihood to them. They say they won’t give it up for mining.

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It’s not only the tribals around the hill range, the move to handover Khandadhar to Posco for mining is also opposed by people in general because it’s a bounty of nature with the great and beautiful Khandadhar waterfall that attracts large number of tourists every year. A mass organisation named Khandadhar Suraksha Samiti has been formed to spearhead the public movement with the one point objective of protecting Khandadhar hill range and its natural beauty from Posco.

Orissa’s Steel and Mines Minister Padmanav Behera quickly responds to the movement like, "We have excluded the waterfall and tourist places from the mining area. The other thing is, Posco will develop the place and make it a more beautiful site and better accessible”.

Looking at the public movement, Posco has come up with a power point presentation that gives some hints about its plans for the local area development. As per the presentation document, Posco has plans to invest Rs.1300 crore in mine development programmes where as it plans to invest Rs.275 Crore for upliftment of local communities and development of infrastructure like railways, roads, township and power supply etc. In all the activities, Posco will provide 1200 direct employment and 2500 indirect employment.

It’s not only Posco, many other Projects are already given or are promised to be provided with mines at Khandadhar. Looking at the mining rush environmentalists across the state apprehend, handing over the Khandadhar hills for such large scale mining would affect the region’s ecology as well as livelihood sources of a large tribal population.

Even though environment protection and pollution mitigation measures are taken, mining must harm the micro-ecosystem of the place; destroy large patches of forests as well as the wildlife that coexists in it. It’s worth mentioning here that nearby forests are home to a good number of tuskers and elephants among many other wild species and recently one of the rare species of limbless lizard is discovered in the Khandadhar hill rage.

Once mining activities are started in large scale by the big projects, the altitude of the hill would come down rapidly disturbing the cloud cluster pattern and thus the rainfall resulting in the destruction of nearby rain forests. This disturbance in the ecosystem would dry up the perennial streams that work as the main thread ensuring peaceful coexistence of man, animal and forests.  In the long run, the changing ecosystem would leave the natural waterfall dried up and dead.

 

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