When most Indians were grappling with the consequences of the first wave of COVID-19 last year, the environment ministry quietly put in place a legally dubious procedure to grant clearances to two mega steel plants that had violated the environment clearance law, official documents accessed exclusively by The Morning Context reveal.
One of the steel plants is based in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district and is run by ESL Steel Ltd, a Vedanta group company; the other is located in Odisha’s Jajpur district and is operated by Tata Steel Ltd, a Tata group venture. Spread over 374 hectares, the Rs 19,374 crore ESL plant has planned an annual output of 3 million tonnes per annum, or MTPA, of crude steel. The Rs 21,000 crore Tata Steel plant in Odisha is larger. Spread over 1,250 hectares, it is in the process of expanding capacity from 6 MTPA to 8 MTPA.
The environment ministry had held that ESL, besides encroaching upon more than 200 acres of forest land in four villages and