MAC: Mines and Communities

Posco: Indian Green ministry ignored own objections

Published by MAC on 2011-08-23
Source: Times of India (2011-08-16)

If there were any lingering doubts that India's Ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) succumbed to government pressure in permitting the potentially disastrous POSCO project, it has surely now been laid to rest.

In the following article, Times of India journalist Nitin Sethi confirms - if confirmation were needed - that India's former environment minister "overlook[ed] the reservations about [the project's] violation of law by his own expert panel".

Previous story: Outrage at Indian go-ahead for POSCO "loot"

Posco: Green ministry ignored own objections

By Nitin Sethi

Times of India

16 August 2011

Through every stage of environmental clearance, the Prime Minister's Office and the finance ministry tracked the Rs 54,000-crore Posco integrated steel plant with keen interest even as the environment ministry sidestepped its own reservations to let the project pass, records with TOI show.

The records accessed from the environment ministry do not show any interference from the two quarters but the PMO and the finance ministry followed the case from 2007 till the final clearance was granted in 2010.

While the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had denied any pressure to clear the project, he had acknowledged "other strategic" concerns involved in the clearance.

However, file notings show the environment ministry bypassed due diligence as the clearance process rolled on. On April 12, 2007, the ministry noted that the documents submitted by the project developers for the steel plant and the port were incomplete.

Officials noted that the documents submitted by Posco had to be verified for accuracy and completion. Based on that review, the ministry's project assessment arm was to lay down detailed terms for the mandatory public hearing.

But the ministry noted that the Centre's orders had been violated and the public hearing had been conducted for the affected villages without the necessary go-ahead from the environment ministry.

"It is not clear how the Orissa Pollution Control Board has gone ahead with the issue of public notice for conducting a public hearing without ministry writing to them regarding the adequacy of the Environment Impact Assessment report," the ministry noted on April 16.

The public hearing had already been held a day before on April 15.

By April 18, the proceedings of the public hearing and other documents had been submitted to the ministry and the matter was never mentioned again in the files. A day later, a meeting on the Posco case status was held in the PMO. Soon after, the finance ministry (following up in the FDI case) and the PMO kept asking for the status of the project and the clearances to be granted to it.

The close monitoring went on till October 2010 when the CEO of Posco wrote to the PM pushing his case and the PMO asked the ministry to draft a reply that could be sent to the Korean steel giant. The letter from the PMO demanding a draft reply came a day before a critical meeting of the environment ministry's review of a special committee set up to assess the Posco clearance.

Ramesh wrote back to the principal secretary putting on record that T K A Nair had called up the environment secretary and enquired about the 'next steps' on the project. Ramesh wrote, "I am very much conscious of the larger background to this project but there are very serious and far-reaching issues raised in the two reports of the review committee which need to be deliberated."

In November 2010, the environment secretary wrote to the principal secretary clarifying the process. By January 2011, the project had got approval of the then environment minister overlooking the reservations about violation of law by his own expert panel.

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