India's biggest foreign direct investment project-Posco Steel Plant in Odisha- is once again in limbo. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday suspended the clearance given to the $12-bn project and asked the environment ministry to review the clearance granted in 2011.
A child drinks water, during anti-Posco demonstrations at Odisha. HT/Arabinda Mahapatra
The ministry had given its nod to the plant, a port and a captive iron ore mines, six years after the Odisha government signed a pact with Posco.
The clearance was said to be on basis of observations of four-member panel constituted to examine the allegations of environment violations at the project site. Three civil society members of the committee gave a dissenting report against former environment secretary Meena Gupta.
"Though the report of Meena Gupta appeared to be balanced, it was not taken into consideration in totality," the bench of Justice C V Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Aggarwal said.
The bench said Gupta had tried to defend her earlier decision to grant clearance to the project in 2007, which was suspended following the allegations of environment violations by locals in 2010.
"This is a gross violation of principles of natural justice and, therefore, entire process of review is vitiated under the law," the bench said.
Now, the tribunal wants the ministry to review the project in lights of the observations made by Gupta and civil society members.
It also asked the ministry to issue fresh terms of reference for conducting a new environment impact assessment of steel plant, captive power plant and a private port. The ministry has also been asked to constitute a special panel to monitor progress and compliance on regular basis.
The tribunal's order may delay the project by over a year. The government, however, can move the Supreme Court against the tribunal's order.