Jairam grants final approval for Posco project

Bhubaneswar: Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on Monday granted final approval to Odisha for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land for Posco`s steel project but said the South Korean steel major should not export raw material from the proposed project.

"…In view of the state government`s latest communication of April 29, final approval is accorded to the state government for diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land in favour of Posco," the Minister said in a statement.

Ramesh, who gave the clearance to the company in January on certain conditions including ensuring of tribal rights and compensatory afforestation, said, "Posco would also bear the cost of regeneration of an equivalent amount of open, degraded land in a district to be determined and indicated by the state government.

Observing that the MoU signed between the state government and Posco in 2005 had expired last year and "has yet to be renewed," the Minister said, "I would expect that the revised MoU between the state and Posco would be negotiated in such a manner that exports of the raw material are completely avoided."

He said the expired MoU had provisions for the export of iron ore "which made me deeply uncomfortable with this project."

Speaking to reporters, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said, “We are yet to receive the orders. We have just learnt from the media that such orders have been passed. When we receive the orders, appropriate action will be taken”.

Meanwhile, news agency PTI quoted the state government as saying it is considering the recommendations of initiating action against sarpanch of Dhinkia Gram Panchayat Sisir Mohapatra who has been accused of misleading the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) on Palli Sabha (village council) resolution against Posco project.

"The committee has recommended action against the Sarpanch. We are examining what can be done in this matter," chief secretary B K Patnaik told reporters here.

While according the final forest diversion clearance for Posco project, union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had also expected that the state government would immediately pursue action under the Orissa Gram Panchayat Act, 1964, against the Sarpanch, Dhinkia for what it (the state government) had categorically said were "fraudulent" acts.

"If no action is taken forthwith, I believe that the state government`s arguments will be called into serious question," Ramesh said in his order.

Basing on the petition of Mohapatra which claimed that the village council resolution was opposed to the Rs 52,000 crore project, Ramesh had put on hold the forest clearance on April 14. The minister had sought certain clarification from the state government on the questions raised by Mohapatra.

Besides, Ramesh, a committee headed by the sub-collector of Jagatsinghpur district had also recommended action against the Dhinkia Sarpanch who allegedly misled the MoEF by submitting an "irregular" Palli Sabha resolution opposing establishment of Posco project.

When contacted, Mohapatra said that there was no "irregularity" in conduct of the village council meeting on February 21 where a resolution was passed opposing the Posco project.

"We have followed all procedures according to the provisions of the Odisha Panchayat Act, 1964 and Forest Rights Rule, 2007. The panchayat had issued notice to the panchayat secretary who did not turn up at the meeting claiming that the state government had not given permission to him for the palli sabha," Mohapatra said.

Sources close to Mohapatra said that the Sarpanch of Dhinkia gram panchayat was also contemplating to take legal action against the district administration which accused him of misleading the MoEF by misusing his official position as the sarpanch.

"Above all, I am a democratically elected sarpanch. I have never gone against the wishes of the people in my panchayat," he said.

On the other hand, United Action Committee (UAC), a village body supporting the Posco project, in a letter to the union environment minister, expressed its gratitude for clearance of the project.

"Truth always prevails. Posco project will provide livelihood to over 8.5 lakh people and generate Rs 2300 crore for central government and Rs 2800 crore for the state government," UAC president Anadi Charan Rout said in the letter.