Seoul statement raises question over fate of Posco’s Odisha project

Bhubaneswar: Though prime minister Narendra Modi and South Korea President Park Geun-hye issued a joint statement in Seoul today saying both the countries have agreed to boost bilateral economic cooperation, Posco’s Odisha project has no mention in it. The omission, first time since 2010, for all obvious reasons has raised many eyebrows.

Top South Korean leaders have raised with India the matters related to the proposed steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district on three occasions in the recent past and every time India has assured to expedite the project by solving the pending issues. But it failed to figure in today’s all-important joint statement. Moreover, the issue has been kept out of the discussion table whenever the leaders met this time.

After meeting an eight-member Posco delegation headed by company’s chairman and global head Joon-Yang Chung on January 26, 2010, then Union Steel minister Birabhadra Singh had said, “Efforts are being made to ensure that the entire matter (read steel project) is seen, signed and delivered in the next 4-5 months. This includes physical transfer of land and all regulatory clearances to Posco.”

The bilateral talks also assume significance in the wake of then visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who had taken up the matter with then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

After a meeting with visiting South Korean President Park Geun-hye on January 16, 2014, Singh had said, “I am very happy that the large-scale Posco steel project in Odisha is set to be operational in the coming weeks, following the revalidation of its environmental clearance.”

“Grant of mining concession for the project is also at an advanced stage of processing,” he had stated.

More recently in November last, when prime minister Modi met Geun-hye in Myanmar on the sidelines of East Asia Summit, the former offered full support for the establishment of the mega steel plant.

“With regard to the Posco project, he (Modi) expressed his full support for it and said, he would make efforts with the Odisha State government to resolve any outstanding issues,” a release posted on the website of South Korea government said.

“Taking note of the delay in addressing the issue of the right to mine exploration, which is key to Posco-India’s commencing the construction of a steel plant in Odisha, President Park requested the prime minister’s interest in this mega investment project,” the statement said.

Now, that the Centre has ruled out any out-of-turn allocation of iron ore to the company under the amended MMDR Act and the State seems to be in an ugly war of words with the steel maker on land premium issue, the picture is clear that Posco has to bid to feed its plant, if at all it wants the Rs 52,000-crore project to take off.