ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reversing a Trend

What would force compliance with environmental laws?

Despite the laws of the land, Vedanta Resources, the transnational mining and metals company headquartered in London, Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), the South Korean multinational which is the world’s second-largest steel company by market valuation, and their Indian subsidiaries showed little concern for the preservation or conservation of the natural environment and the rights of local communities. Growth, as rapidly as is possible, and profit, making as much of it as possible with the eventual start of operations, mattered above all else. Vedanta and POSCO had callously insisted on operating only on their own terms. Shamelessly, in the name of “development”, the central and state governments looked the other way, at times, even conniving in this whole “profits over people” approach.

Nevertheless, the victims of this process of “development” kept up the resistance, against heavy odds, one should add, saying no to these terms. The state government of Orissa, solidly behind the companies, came down with a heavy hand to quell the protests. But then the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the centre made what seems like a change in tactics. Acting on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the union ministries of environment and forests (MoEF) and tribal affairs (MoTA), the union government rejected the application for forest clearance (in the upper reaches of the Niyamgiri hills) of the Orissa Mining Corporation, in effect, saying no to the mining of bauxite for Vedanta’s alumina plant in the vicinity. And, more recently, a majority of another committee, appointed by the MoEF, recommended the revocation of the forest, environmental and coastal regulation clearances for the POSCO project. All eyes are now on what decision Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, would eventually take on such expert advice. US President Barack Obama will be here on a state visit; the interests of American business and finance are high on his agenda. Given its ownership structure, POSCO surely has its friends in high places, both in Washington DC and Seoul. The comments earlier this week by the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma that the government would address the POSCO issues “in a constructive manner” are surely a signal that the decks would indeed be cleared for the project. But let us take a look at some of Vedanta’s and POSCO’s, as also the central and Orissa governments’ misdoings.

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