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India's environment ministry clears POSCO project

India's environment ministry granted final clearance to South Korean steel giant POSCO to begin work on a massive refinery project in the eastern state of Orissa, the Times of India reports.

Touted as the largest foreign direct investment ever in India when the initial agreement was signed, the $12 billion project ran into trouble in the process of acquiring the land allotted by the state government, which central environment ministry committees said violated India's Forest Rights Act -- a law designed to protect aboriginal forest dwellers.

Pushed through due to pressure from the prime minister's office according to TOI, the project clearance essentially hinges on a denial that the FRA applies in this instance. 

Here's the dope as TOI sees it:

In January, [Enviroment Minister Jairam] Ramesh had put one last condition before the state government to acquire the forest land. He had asked for an assurance from the state that no rights of people existed on the land under the Forest Rights Act. The state sent its assurance but Ramesh, having received evidence to the contrary, asked the Naveen Patnaik government to come back again with clarity.

The state government wrote back to the Centre on April 29 claiming that the resolutions of the two villages – Govindpur and Dhinkia -- opposing the plant and claiming community rights over the forests were illegal. Ramesh moved quickly to decide in favour of the state government, dismissing the village resolutions that he had a copy of.

For long under pressure from the PMO on the project, passing the order in favour of the state government, Ramesh noted, "Faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism." He decided to pass the buck for adhering to the Forest Rights Act to the state saying, "The primary responsibility for implementing the Forest Rights Act is that of the state government."