Bhubaneswar, Feb. 1: A bureaucrat and land protesters today made contrary claims about a key condition set by the Centre that must be met before South Korean giant Poscos proposed steel plant in Orissa can become a reality.
The issue relates to whether any tribal or other forest dweller is entitled to any part of the project area, in Jagatsinghpur district, under the forest rights act of 2006.
Giving conditional clearance to the project, the Union environment and forests ministry had yesterday asked the state for an assurance that no one was so entitled. At stake is the final approval for the diversion of 1,253 hectares of forestland for the steel plant and its captive port.
Jagatsinghpur collector Narayan Jena today argued that no one met the criteria under which they could legitimately stake claim to any part of the forestland. This was challenged by the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, which is resisting the project.
Under the 2006 law, tribals can claim rights over forestland on which they are currently living or dependent for livelihood. According to the state government, no tribal lives in the project area.
However, the 2006 law also allows Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) to claim forest rights provided they satisfy three criteria. The claimants must:
• Have lived on the forestland for 75 years prior to December 13, 2005;
• Have been in occupation of the land before December 13, 2005;
• Be dependent on the forestland for their bona fide livelihood needs.
Collector Jena declined comment on the Union ministrys riders since the official order is yet to be received, but tried to clear the air on the matter of forest rights.
He said the project area had been notified as protected forest area only in 1961 so technically, no OTFD could claim to have lived in a forest there for 75 years. Had there been tribals in the area, the situation would have been different. But no OTFD can claim such benefits because its forest status does not go back 75 years, he said.
He conceded that the area was part of Burdwan estate before 1952, when there were reserve forests in Jatadhari and Bhuyanpal, which are part of the project area. But he insisted that the area was completely uninhabited now.
However, the Union tribal ministry says that claimants under the OTFD category do not have to prove they live on the forestland but only that they depend on it for their bona fide livelihood needs.
Jena countered this by alleging that claimants to land in the project area were encroachers, implying their claims about dependence for livelihood would be untenable.
But Sangram Samiti spokesperson Prasant Piakray said some residents had documents to prove they had been living on the forestland for over 75 years. If denied their rights, some of them may take legal recourse.