Jindal Power and Steel Limited, which allegedly violated environmental norms at its 6 million tonne steel plant in Angul, managed to escape penal action in the midst of a squabble between the environment ministry and Odisha government.
A complaint filed by Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha, in 2010 claimed that the company had carried out work in non-forested areas without getting the requisite clearance from the environment ministry. It has stipulated that the company cannot start any work until it obtains forest clearance from it.
Then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had ordered an inquiry, which confirmed the violation. In March 2011, the ministry asked the Odisha government to initiate penal action against the company for violation of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), under which the environment clearance was granted.
"It is noted that Jindal Steel started construction activity on non-forest land without obtaining prior forestry clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which is not in consonance with the environmental clearance accorded to the project," the ministry said in its directive.
The Odisha government did not agree with the ministry's contention. In an internal note approved by chief minister Navin Patnaik, the state government said that a case under EPA cannot be registered as the violation pertained to the Forest Conservation Act.
Odisha environment secretary Rajkumar Sharma said the environment ministry could directly take up prosecution against the erring projects.
The state government's reply had put the ministry in a quandary because the forest clearance was granted a few months before the violation was confirmed.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has said she will look into the case, and ordered an inquiry into fresh allegations by Mohanty.