New Delhi, Oct 22 (IANS) An organisation working for forest dwellers' welfare in Orissa Friday alleged that South Korean steel major POSCO used fraudulent means to secure forest, environment and coastal clearances from the environment ministry for its $12 billion project.
The National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) claimed that POSCO 'deliberately unbundled' - steel plant, captive port, power complex - into smaller parts and sought environment clearances for each independent part, even though they were all components of one project and located within one complex.
'No mention whatsoever was made about the massive township that would be developed demanding additional land, and the impact of water pipeline and rail and road network in the forest area,' said Leo F. Saldanha, coordinator, Environment Support Group, who did a study for NFFPFW.
Saldanha, who visited all the villages near the POSCO site at Jagatsinghpur in Orissa, said the fact that the port at Jatadhari in Paradip was claimed to be a minor one is an 'alarming aspect'.
The port, in fact, was designed for cape sized ships - large cargo ships - of 170,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT). It was perhaps the largest built in Asia and would be set up in the ecological sensitive Jatadhar creek, he said.
'The devastation the ships would cause is unimaginable, particularly considering that the Jatadhar creek is an important nesting ground for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles,' he said.
Citing from the environment panel report that sought cancellation of environment clearance to POSCO, Ashok Chowdhury of NFFPFW said: 'The report states that environment and forest clearances were given to POSCO by deliberately suppressing relevant information by the project proponent, and regulatory agencies systematically overlooked critical concerns.'
'Key appraisal bodies of the environment ministry also ignored expert demands for comprehensive inquiry and rushed the clearances regardless of the social, economic and environmental consequences,' he said.
The NGO alleged that panel chairperson Meena Gupta used her 'strange justification to merely recommend some additional conditions as ameliorative measures while promoting a business as usual approach'.
'What all this reveals is that POSCO is perhaps the greatest fraud and loot project in the history of Orissa. Given that fraud has been the basis of securing forest, environmental and coastal regulation zone clearances, the ministry must immediately withdraw these and initiate a comprehensive enquiry to fix individual responsibility of officials involved in the fraud,' said Chowdhury.