India Approves Long-Delayed Korean Steel Mill Project By Anti-Labor Posco
By VIKAS BAJAJ
Published: January 31, 2011
SHAREMUMBAI, India — An Indian ministry on Monday approved a long-delayed, $12 billion steel mill and port proposed by Posco, a South Korean company. Foreign companies and governments had been closely watching the project to gauge how receptive Indian officials were to big investment projects.
The decision, which is contingent on the company’s meeting 60 new requirements, comes nearly six years after Posco and the eastern Indian state of Orissa signed an agreement for the project, which would be the largest single foreign direct investment in India.
The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, which business executives have criticized in recent months for blocking significant industrial projects, gave its approval. It said its concerns about the project would be addressed by the new conditions, which include safeguards for turtles and mangrove forests. The ministry also directed Posco to spend 2 percent of its profit on social welfare programs.
In recent months, some executives and analysts have criticized Mr. Ramesh, an engineer by training, for his opposition to several prominent industrial projects. Some Indian newspapers have taken to calling him “Dr. No.” In August, he blocked plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite on a hill in Orissa that a local tribe considered sacred.
Mr. Ramesh, who declined to comment, has defended himself by saying he is simply enforcing India’s environmental laws, which were brazenly flouted in the past.
Disputes over big industrial projects have become more common in India in recent years as demand for manufactured goods has increased in the country’s fast-growing economy. Analysts say that Indian officials have not yet figured how to strike the right balance among industry, the environment and the rights of local people.
The difficulty in getting projects approved and acquiring land appear to have depressed foreign interest in India. As hedge funds and other financial investors poured money into the Indian stock market last year, direct investments by foreigners fell 27 percent, to $14 billion, from April to November, compared with the period a year earlier.
The Posco project has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists, villagers and tribes in Orissa, which sits on the Bay of Bengal. Opponents say the project will mar the state’s forests and coastline and dislocate hundreds of people. On Monday, one of the main groups opposed to the project said it would continue to try to block it.
“We strongly condemn this decision,” said Prashant Paikray, a spokesman for Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, or the People’s Organization Opposing Posco, an opposition group that represents villagers affected by the project. He said the decision ignored the findings of committees of experts that were appointed to study the project, which had advised against its approval.
Posco faces a number of other hurdles. The decision issued by the ministry for the environment, for instance, does not give the company permission to mine iron ore, the main raw material of steel. Orissa is rich in that natural resource, an important reason Posco wanted to build a plant and port there. The company’s plans are also contingent on the outcome of a court case filed by opponents against the state government.
“We fully appreciate the concerns of different stakeholders on sustainability of environment as well as livelihood of affected people,” G. W. Sung, the managing director of Posco India, said in a statement.
Separately on Monday, the Indian government said the economy grew 8 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March 2010, up from a previous estimate of 7.4 percent.