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Tougher Than Steel: Decades on, Odisha Villagers Still Struggle to Protect Their Land

After a harrowing fight with POSCO Ltd, Jagatsinghpur’s villagers now enter the legal battle for their land with another corporate entity
ODISHA

Residents of Jagatsinghpur village in Odisha have alleged that JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. provided false information and fake letters of representation during a public hearing regarding the setting up of a greenfield integrated steel plant. 

People from Dhinkia, Nuagaon, Gadakujanga and Balitutha gram panchayat have long since opposed the construction of the integrated plant fearing the destruction of the local ecosystem and livelihoods of indigenous groups. Therefore, members filed an FIR application with respect to the 1,082 written representations sent in favour of the project before, during and after the public hearing on December 20, 2019. Their application revealed that many of the signatories in the representations are either illiterate or children, and in some cases did not even exist! 

“The written representations in favour of the Project Proponent (PP) are all in the same format and deliberately written by the PP and their representatives. A small observation by any person with knowledge of Odia language can identify this,” said villagers’ letter dated September 13, 2021 addressed to the Expert Appraisal Committee Chairman.

The letter detailed how those individuals, who did exist in the villages, did not give their consent to be named in the official document. In fact, villagers were unaware that their names were used. Further, most villagers whose names were signed in English or Odia said they could not sign their name in either language. Similarly, the children named in the representations are between ages 10 and 13.

“Neither the children, nor their parents have any idea about the written representations sent with their names on it in support of the proposed project,” said villagers in the letter.

Claiming that the local administration was trying to sabotage their voices, villagers appealed to the Chairman to order a fair and transparent inquiry and reject the project and clearance for the same.

Roughly a decade ago, villagers including coastal farmers, fisherfolk and other indigenous groups fought a similar battle with POSCO India Ltd. that resulted in the death of four people. The incident drew global attention against the illegal public hearing conducted by the administration.

Among other things, it also highlighted the issues regarding resettlement and rehabilitation policy implementations, forest dweller rights, impact on traditional prolonged livelihood of betel wine.

Now, locals face the possibility of a crude steel production unit, a cement grinding unit and a 900 MW captive power plant in their vicinity. For this reason, villagers sent the letter to the Chairman and other members of the EAC and members of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The letter includes signatures and thumbprints of the same people whose names were mentioned in JSW’s documents without their consent.

Courtesy: Sabrang India

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