Two years after a 12-year-long struggle against the construction of a mega steel plant by POSCO Group came to end, Odisha government seems to be paving way for another mega project on the same land. This time, by the corporate steel-making giant—the Jindal Group.
The Odisha government is reportedly facilitating transfer of land acquired from the local betel vine growers and fisherfolk in Jagatsinghpur district to Jindal Steel Works. Activists say that this deprives peasantry of the agriculturally fertile land, and that the government is snatching away their source of income and livelihood.
Speaking to NewsClick, one of the advocates and activists working on the issue, Shankar Pani, said, “The total area of the land is over 4,000 acres, out of which, over 3,000 acres is forest controlled land. The claim made by the community is about this land, as it has been a traditional livelihood source. As per the law, the forest rights recognition process has not been followed; it has not even been initiated. As far as the Gram Sabhas are concerned, they have rejected the proposal for diversion of land. The proposed plan is bigger than what was proposed by POSCO.”
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He added, “We are asserting that the government cannot go ahead with this arbitrary transfer of land as people have been there for years together and their rights have been recognised by the court and even different committees.”
The 2,700 acres of land, forcibly acquired by the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO), was to be handed over to the local people as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013. It mandates that land acquired but not utilised within five years of possession should be returned to the people.
However, the Odisha government made a policy revision in 2015, which said that such land can be kept in a ‘Land Bank’ by the state government. The forest clearance or an environmental go-ahead was given to the company in August this year by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Activists state that this move is coming despite the National Green Tribunal having halted the construction of the boundary wall built by IDCO for JSW.
Moreover, to speed up the acquisition process, the State Pollution Control Board has announced a public hearing for environment clearance on November 22, 2019. The notice states that JSW Utkal Ltd is proposing development of multi-cargo all-weather captive jetties for handling 52 MTPA capacity cargos at the mouth of the Jatadhari River in Erasama tehsil of Jagatsinghpur district. According to the website of the Ministry, there is a public hearing scheduled at the same venue on the same day at 9.30 am for environment clearance of a 13.2 MTPS crude steel, 900 MW Captive Power Plant and 10 MTPA Cement Plant too. Pani said, “This information has neither been communicated to the members of the Gram Panchayat nor published in any newspaper that local people know. Like many other rigged public hearings, the newspaper notice does not share complete information with the affected people.”
In 2011, the gram panchayats of Gobindpur, Dhinkia and Nuagaon had made unanimous resolutions against the transfer of land to POSCO, as mandated by the Forest Rights Act.
Activists in the state hold that the move is unprecedented and alarming, and comes with its share of increasing ecological risks that the coastal areas face. Amidst this, the push for fresh proposals of steel plants and cement plants will further destroy and erode an already fragile ecosystem. Currently, a mobilisation is being built on the ground to counter the hurried public hearings. The activists are now demanding that the government urgently process individual and community forest rights claims on the land that have been filed since 2011 and return the land to the original inhabitants as well as withdraw previous criminal cases against the locals who had protested against the POSCO plant.
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