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Odisha-based campaign group says declaration to start construction work at Posco site is "illegal"

By Our Representative
Top Odisha-based campaign group Lok Shakti Abhiyan (LSA) has strongly protested against the announcement to kickstart the construction work of South Korean steel major Posco following a meeting South Korean ambassador India Joon-gye Lee had with Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. LSA said, “When the hearing on dispensation of environmental clearance for Posco project is going on in National Green Tribunal and there is a stay order for cutting trees, this is nothing but to dishonour the rule of law as well as against international human rights law.”
LSA recalled, “Recently the United Nations Independent Human Rights experts had also urged that ‘the construction of a massive Steel Plant and port of Odisha by Pocsco must not proceed as planned without ensuring adequate safeguards and guaranteeing that the rights of the thousands of people are respected’.” The UN report was further quoted as saying, “People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits.”
Rejecting the UN report, the South Korean ambassador and the Odisha CM agreed that the UN panel’s recommendation had wrongly argued for suspension of the project by raising the issue of displacement. They discussed the project for nearly half an hour and declared that the construction would start to coincide with the South Korean president’s scheduled visit to India next year. Though eight years have been passed since the signing of the MoU, construction work for the project is yet to begin.
Alleging massive environmental damage, LSA said, “Posco would withdraw everyday 10 million gallons of water from Mahanadi which may take away 'right to water' of people of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. This is a concern expressed by UN human right experts. Similarly, when the National Green Tribunal suspended the given environmental clearance on March 30, 2012, it was directed to find out alternative source of water for Posco, which has not been possible till now”.
Signed by LSA president Prafulla Samantara, the statement by the campaign group said, “The MoU has not been renewed till today, and the new one is not viable as the company is not prepared to take iron ore at market price and the number of real employment generated has not been submitted by the company. The most important aspect is that till date the company has not prepared an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for intended 12 million ton steel plant, all that it has prepared is a report for 4 million tons, the first phase.”
Calling this a “fraud”, LSA said, “The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has told the National Green Tribunal that Posco did not provide necessary documents on the said matter. Also, the process of allotment of mining has not began and it will not be possible that even mining in Khandadhar would be allowed by the primitive tribals like Paudi Bhuinya who have habitat right in it. Unless and until the mining is cleared the construction of plant is illegal even though clearance for plant is granted. But at present the plant has no environment clearance. So everything is illegal as of now.”
Currently, work on the Posco project is on standstill since completion of land acquisition process on July 4. “The civil construction work and ancillary project-related work has been affected mainly due to the National Green Tribunal’s stay on tree-cutting”, a company official said, adding, “A large number of trees still dot the project areas. Unless trees are felled, ground-levelling cannot be carried out in the area.”
Meanwhile, a six-member delegation of South Korean officials of the Posco steel project visited the office at the site. Officials of the company, including general manager (corporate affairs) IG Lee, had an interaction with a section of local settlers. The delegation did not face any sort of protest during the course of the visit, a company official claimed. Later, the delegation held talks with the district administration.

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