Plea against Odisha project filed late: Posco to NGT

New Delhi: South Korean major Posco on Monday claimed before National Green Tribunal (NGT) that a plea challenging the forest clearance to its Rs 51,000-crore mega steel project in Odisha was not maintainable as it has been filed late and the issue has already been decided by Supreme Court in 2008.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) also agreed with Posco's contention on its project in Jagatsinghpur district, saying the petitioner was aware for the last three years that trees were being cut, but it approached the tribunal only in 2013.
Refuting Posco and MoEF's contentions, senior advocate Raj Panjwani, appearing for petitioner Prafulla Samantara, argued that the steel major had not been granted forest clearance under the Indian Forest Act, and thus it cannot be considered as valid.
Posco India Pvt Ltd contended before a bench headed by Tribunal (NGT) Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar that the forest clearance (FC) for its project was granted in 2009 while it has been challenged in 2013 by the petitioner.
"The petition is not maintainable as it is barred by time. Furthermore, the matter has been concluded before the Supreme Court. This issue cannot be re-agitated before this tribunal now," senior advocate Pinaki Mishra, appearing for Posco, contended.
A special environmental bench of the apex court in August 2008 had allowed Posco to go ahead with its plans and had also cleared forest diversion proposal for the plant site which required over 1253 hectares of forest land.
Pajwani contented that without proper forest clearance as well as environment clearance (EC), Posco "cannot touch a single tree". He argued that as per environmental guidelines, EC can only be granted after FC is given.
He said that at present Posco has no environment clearance for its two linked projects- the steel plant and the captive minor port- and the forest clearance is not valid, hence it cannot cut trees. 
During arguments on whether the plea can be heard by the tribunal or not, Mishra also claimed that a similar plea challenging the FC has been moved before the Orissa High Court where it is still pending.
He alleged that this fact has been concealed from the tribunal while obtaining from it, in May this year, the order halting felling of trees in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha where Posco's project is coming up.
On May 28, 2013, the NGT had ordered status quo to be maintained regarding cutting of trees at the project site.
Mishra also argued that the trees were being felled for the purpose of fencing the project site after clearing encroachers from the place and work has come to a standstill because of the NGT's order.
He said that as a result of work being halted, there is a possibility that the encroachers might return, He also said that the trees being felled are casuarina trees which are only good for being used as firewood.
On the last date of hearing, MoEF had informed the NGT that environment clearance for Posco's integrated steel plant in Odisha has been held up as the South Korean company is yet to provide certain information regarding its captive minor port project in the state. The contention was opposed by Posco.