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Boost for Posco as NGT questions delay in green clearance

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OST Bureau/PTI

New Delhi, Sep 23:

Korean steel major Posco received a shot in the arm on Monday with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) taking a dim view of the undue delay in granting forest clearances to industry by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

In strong observations during the hearing of arguments in the matter of Posco’s Rs 51,000-crore mega steel project in Odisha, the NGT ticked off the environment ministry for making a “mess” of granting forest clearance to industries and wondered if  it would help the cause of sustainable development.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also questioned the concept of two-stage forest clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to industries. It asked the ministry how the concept was in conformity with the Forest Conservation Act, noting “the Act does not contemplate two stages of clearance”.

The tribunal brushed aside the MoEF’s contention that the guidelines had been issued to promote the object of the Act and that the concept of two stage clearance was evolved for administrative purposes.

“What administration? You are creating a mess. You take two, three years to grant clearances while industries are kept waiting. Is this sustainable development? Your whole process has been made so complex. You have made a mess of things. It (guidelines) does not promote anything,” the bench said.

The remarks were made by the tribunal while hearing arguments on whether a plea challenging forest clearance given to Posco’s steel project in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha was filed too late.

Senior advocate Raj Panjwani, who appeared for the petitioner Prafulla Samantara, an environmentalist, argued that the plea had not been filed too late as cutting of each tree is a fresh cause of action. He argued that there was apprehension that more trees would be cut and in such circumstances, the plea was not barred by time.

Under the NGT Act, a plea has to be filed within six months of the cause of action.

Posco, on the other hand, contended that it had not cut a single tree since September 2011 and added that the site in question is a sandy beach and not a natural forest area. Posco said the area is a man-made forest as casuarina “bushes” were planted to prevent soil erosion and they cannot be classified as trees.

During the proceedings, Panjwani also argued that since Posco’s environment clearance for the project had expired and was yet to be revalidated, it cannot cut trees. “Both forest and environment clearance should be subsisting for you to touch or cut even a single tree,” he said.

On May 28, the NGT had ordered status quo to be maintained regarding cutting of trees at the project site.

The tribunal’s order had come on Samantra’s plea opposing felling of trees at the project site.

Posco was granted environment clearance for its project in 2007.

On March 30, last year, the environment clearance granted to Posco’s steel project had been suspended by the green tribunal, which had directed the MoEF to review the clearance.

After reviewing the same, the clearance for the steel plant was recommended for revalidation till 2017 by the Expert Appraisal Committee in May. (PTI)

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