Panel on tree loss in Posco area re-constituted

Bhubaneswar: Odisha government on Monday re-constituted the four-member committee of experts to examine the steps needed to mitigate impact of tree cutting in coastal belt for setting up the mega steel plant by Posco-India, official sources said.

"The government after careful consideration have been pleased to re-constitute the committee to examine the steps to be taken as mitigating measures to protect the area (for which forest diversion proposal for the proposed steel plant by Posco-India is cleared by the apex court) from cyclone and other natural calamities due to cutting of large number of trees, especially from the coastal side," the notification issued by the steel and mines department said.

Member of Central Empowered Committee, Government of India, S K Patnaik will head it as chairman, while Chief Conservator of Forests (forest diversion and nodal officer, Forest Conservation Act), will act as member convenor.

A representative of the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Director of (ST & SC) ST & SC Development department will function as members of the reconstituted committee, the notification said. "The committee will examine and issue and furnish their views, suggestions, reply to the state government immediately," said a senior official.

Meanwhile, sources said over 600,000 trees and some 1,800 betel vines will have to be sacrificed to set up Posco`s Rs 52,000 crore mega steel project in Jagatsinghpur district. The trees to make way for the project include about three lakh casuarina and as many horticultural plants, they said.

Local people have voiced strong opposition against the move to clear the trees, arguing that they will be exposed to cyclone, tsunami and other natural calamities. "The trees mostly belong to casuarina variety, a fuel wood. In any case the trees, planted by Forest Department after 1999 Super Cyclone need to be cut at regular intervals," Forest and Environment minister Debi Prasad Mishra said.

Stating that the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest had already approved cutting of trees at the proposed plant site, the minister claimed that the state government had been following guidelines laid down for the purpose. "There is no old tree or forest variety tree in the area," the minister said, adding a Supreme Court committee had also studied the issue. So far trees worth Rs 10 lakh had been cut, sources said.