File photograph of a villager living under threat of displacement by the construction of the Posco steel plant in Dhinkia village of Jagatsinghpur district. AFP
Bhubaneswar, May 2: Setting speculations at rest, the Union environment and forest ministry today accorded approval to the diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land for the 12-million-tonne Posco steel project being set up in Jagatsinghpur district.
The development, which comes close on the heels of environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s two-day visit to Orissa, would help accelerate the process of land acquisition for the Rs 51,000-crore project. For setting up the project the South Korean company requires 1,620.49 hectares of which 1,253 hectares are falling in the forest.
Reacting to the news of approval, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the state government would decided its future course of action only after it received a copy of the order.
“We have just learnt about it from the media. When we receive the order appropriate action would be taken,” said Naveen who had a 20-minute meeting with Ramesh at the state secretariat on Saturday. The Posco sources described it as a “positive” development.
On the other hand, the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), the outfit agitating against the project, remained defiant. “We will explore all democratic and legal means of fighting the ministry’s order. We will not allow anyone to enter the area and acquire land,” said PPSS president Abhay Sahu.
In his order approving the forest diversion proposal (FDP) for the project, Ramesh said he had accepted the state government’s contention that the gram sabha or palli sabha resolutions, claiming recognition of forest rights, sent to him by the PPSS were illegal. He drew this conclusion on the basis of a letter sent to him by the state government on April 29, where it was clarified that while the resolution adopted by the palli sabha in Dhinkia on February 21 had been signed by only 69 out of the 3,445 voters in the village, the one passed by Gobindpur palli sabha on February 23 bore signatures of 64 out of a total of 1,907 voters. Moreover, these resolutions were not available in books of the palli sabha which is considered mandatory.
Stating that “beyond a point the bona fides of a democratically elected government cannot always be questioned by the Centre” he accepted the state’s contention and accorded approval to the FDP while concluding that “there has been no valid claim for recognition of the forest rights in Dhinkia and Gobindpur as required under the Forest Rights Act, 2006”. However, Ramesh said that the clearance, among other things, would be subject to the condition that Posco would bear the cost of “regeneration of an equal amount of open, degraded forest to be determined and indicated by the state government”.
Moreover, the minister wanted the state government to initiate action under the Orissa Gram Panchyaat Act, 1964, against Sisir Mohapatra, sarpanch of Dhinkia, who was responsible for the alleged fake resolutions. “If no action is taken forthwith, I believe that the state government’s arguments will be called into serious question,” said the minister. On his part, Mohapatra, who also happens to be secretary of the PPSS, asserted that the resolution submitted by him were in order and that the government had sought to mislead the Union minister.
Making a reference to the impending renewal of the Posco MoU, Ramesh urged the state government to leave out the clause with regard to the export of iron ore while renegotiating the agreement with the company as the provision had made him “deeply uncomfortable” about the project.
Official sources expressed hope about resumption of work at the project site where all activities had come to a standstill on August 5 last year following a directive of the Union environment ministry. Though the ministry accorded conditional clearance to the project on January 31, it had still remained stuck as the approval to the crucial forest diversion proposal was pending.
STUCK BETWEEN INDUSTRY AND LIVELIHOOD
June 22, 2005
Posco signs MoU with Orissa government for setting up steel plant
July 19, 2007
Environment clearance accorded
December 29, 2009
l MoEF gives clearance for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land
January 8, 2010
MoEF clarifies that final approval of forest diversion proposal (FDP) is conditional on settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006
March 16, 2010
Orissa govt writes to MoEF that no tribals or traditional forest dwellers reside in forest area to be acquired by Posco
April 13, 2010
MoEF and union tribal affairs ministry set up joint committee to study FRA implementation
July 28, 2010
MoEF sets up committee headed by Meena Gupta to look into FRA violation and environment aspects
August 4, 2010
A sub-committee of the joint committee of MoEF and tribal affairs ministry submits report saying required procedure under FRA for forest rights settlement was not followed in project area
August 5, 2010
MoEF asks Orissa govt to stop transfer of land in project area till claims under FRA are completed
October 18, 2010
Meena Gupta panel submits report
January 31, 2011
MoEF clears project with 60 additional conditions. These include an assurance from the state government that no other traditional forest dwellers eligible for making claims under FRA reside in the project area
April 13, 2011
State government communicates this assurance to MoEF
April 14, 2011
Union environment ministerJairam Ramesh refers to the state government two palli sabha resolutions sent by the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti and seeks a reply thereon
April 29, 2011
Ramesh arrives in Bhubaneswar. State govt responds to his letter
May 2, 2011
Ramesh accords approval to diversion of 1,253 hectare of forest land for the Posco project