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How a forest clearance to Posco could save JSW's Rs 550 bn plant much grief

Dillip Satapathy/Bhubaneswar 13 Oct 18 | 04:48 PM

JSW's Rs 550 billion mega steel project in Odisha might escape the scrutiny of gram sabha required for diversion of forest land with the Odisha government contemplating to seek Centre’s nod for transfer of the forest clearance (FC) granted to the jinxed Posco project at the same location, to JSW.

The move would come as a major relief to JSW, as seeking a fresh FC for the project would have called for holding of gram sabhas to vet the company’s plan, a procedural necessity seen as a stumbling block, given the resistance shown by the local people to the Posco venture at the designated site earlier.

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JSW has been allotted 2,900 acres at a site near Paradip to set up a 12-million-tonne steel plant. The state’s land acquisition agency, Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (Idco) had acquired the patch for a steel project of similar size by Posco before the South Korean firm scrapped the plan two years back.

Out of this 2,900 acres, more than 2,500 acres are categorised as forest land. Though the Posco project had got the Centre’s nod for diversion of forest land, with the FCs running concurrent to a specific project, it was anticipated JSW may go for a fresh FC for the same area.

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Considering the tedious process of holding gram sabha and the track record of local opposition to Posco plant, the mandatory need of getting the gram sabha approval for forest diversion plan afresh seemed a major bottleneck in the early implementation of the JSW project.

“Though FCs are generally project specific, there is also provision that an FC can be transferred in the name of another project if the nature of the project is similar to the other one and the locations are same", said an official of the state industry department.

Here, JSW proposes to set up a 12 million tonne steel mill in phases, same as Posco at the same location. While Posco pegged the capacity of its first module at 4 million tonne, JSW intends to set up a 5 million tonne steel mill in the first phase. 

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On the basis of this provision, Idco has send a proposal to the state forest department for transfer of FC granted to the Posco project in the name of JSW. The state forest department is now vetting the proposal following which it will be forwarded to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for approval, sources said.

Pending the forest clearance matter, Idco, meanwhile, has transferred 462 acres of non-forest land at the project site in the name of JSW.

The JSW project, however, has to go the process of public hearing at the project site for environment clearance (EC) as the validity of EC granted to Posco has already expired. Besides, the change of technology and other project parameters necessitates issue of fresh EC for the JSW project, sources said.

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