NEW DELHI: Posco’s Rs 50,000 crore integrated steel plant in Jagatsinghpura, Odisha, could be in for more trouble with a government committee instituted on the orders of the National Green Tribunal to review the project’s environmental clearances recording many lapses on the part of the Korean giant in securing the nod.

In March 2012, the tribunal quashed the 2011 clearance given to the steel company by the environment ministry noting, besides other lapses, that the nod had been given for only a 4 million tonne per annum (mtpa) plant while a 12 mtpa plant was envisaged. It ordered the setting up of a panel to review the project and a fresh evaluation of conditions to be enforced on the plant.

The committee under the chairmanship of retired bureaucrat K Roy Paul, going along with the green tribunal’s decision, has not recommended cancelling the clearance in entirety. But it noted severe lacunae in the green clearances – resolving which could be a serious challenge for the company and the Odisha government.

The environment clearance for the project (port as well as the steel plant) – granted for a five-year period – had anyway lapsed in 2012. The company could now need to overhaul its proposal along the lines recommended by the Roy Paul committee before seeking a renewal even for a truncated version of its original plans.

The Roy Paul committee had submitted its report in October 2012 but it has been made public only now through RTI. What further action the environment ministry has since taken on the report could not be ascertained.

The steel giant and the state authorities have been asked to submit a revised layout considering that the project is now supposed to be limited to 2,700 acres compared to the earlier plan of 4,004 acres, leaving out villages that have resisted acquisition of land. The committee has asked the company to clarify how it would be able to fit a 12 mtpa integrated steel plant in the limited area.

Any expansion of the steel plant could be an uphill battle for the company with the committee recommending that it should only be allowed after carrying capacity study for the entire region has been carried out, considering that the state government is planning expansion of the Paradip port and setting up of several big Industries Including IOCL refinery; PCPIR, ESSAR steel plant and the fertilizer plant operated by Paradeep Phosphate.

The panel warned, “Unless effective steps are taken by the state government immediately, the environment and ambience of the whole region will be irremediably damaged by unplanned growth of industries, modern urban slums and concrete jungles.”

The four committee members recorded that the company had not disclosed how it would source its water through the year, warning that it could not use the already depleted groundwater in the region or depend upon the Mahanadi river water entirely.

The panel noted that the project developers did not carry out the studies they were required to as part of the environment clearance which includes one on impacts on fishing and livelihood and sourcing of water and possible damage to marine life.

While such studies are required to be carried out prior to the clearance and mandatory public hearings, the panel has asked them to be conducted now. The committee has also asked for long-term monitoring and studies on the impacts due to erosion of creeks/banks, deepening of the creek and widening of the river mouth and all ecological changes occurring due to the construction of the project. It said the impact of dredging and disposal of dredged material by the port also needed to be studied.