Cuttack, June 28: The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) today alleged before Orissa High Court that the Orissa government had misled the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) into giving approval for forest clearance for the proposed Posco steel plant on May 2 after issuing a stay order on it last year.
“The approval was based on a dubious claim by the Orissa government that the rights endowed under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 did not apply to the communities affected by the project,” ESG trustee Leo F. Saldanha stated in an intervention petition.
The intervention petition was filed in connection with the writ petitions filed in the high court seeking quashing of the forest clearance granted for the project and land acquisition proceedings. Nishakar Khatua and five other villagers of Govindpur-Dhinkia-Nuagaon had filed the two separate writ petitions.
The ESG trustee said Union minister for environment and forest Jairam Ramesh did apparently not trust competence of the two independent investigation committees (one headed by former planning commission member N.C. Saxena and another by former MoEF secretary Meena Gupta) constituted by him when they had “exposed the fraud involved in clearing the Posco project”.
“Instead in a stunning display of farcical reasoning, which simply has no place in law, he (Ramesh) decided to invest his “faith and trust” in the blatant lies of the Orissa government that claimed that the Forest Rights Act did not apply to the project affected villages,” Saldanha said.
The petition made the allegation against the Orissa government on the basis of a study entitled Tearing through the water landscape: Evaluating the environmental and social consequence of Posco project in Orissa.
A copy of the ESG-conducted study has been annexed to the petition. Saldanha said the study had revealed that there was “uncontestable historical and official evidence that there has been forests and communities in the region from time immemorial”.
In fact, the Orissa government had found it fit in October 4, 1961 to issue a notification that protected the forests but without in any manner “abridge or affect any existing rights of individuals or communities”.
“It is thus shocking, to say the least, that the Orissa government now can make a claim that the local communities do not have any rights conferred under the Forest Rights Act and on such basis have led the Union minister of forest and environment to accede to the diversion of 3,000 acres of forestland that constitutes 75 per cent of the land required for the Posco project,” the petition stated.
The ESG further contended: “The affected communities had demonstrated in no uncertain terms their direct dependence on the forests for generations and had taken appropriate action through resolutions of the palli sabhas...to claim their legitimate forest rights.”