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Blame Game After Locals Seeking Jobs at Vedanta’s Bokaro Steel Plant Beaten

Ayaskant Das |
The Jharkhand Police said that it is investigating the incident and is yet to arrest the culprits.

New Delhi: More than 12 people were injured in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district on November 27 when private security personnel of a steel manufacturing unit clashed with displaced people demanding jobs in it.

The 15-year-old steel plant, mired in controversies for violating environmental rules, belongs to billionaire businessman Anil Agarwal’s London-headquartered Vedanta Group, which acquired it for Rs 5,320 crore in a corporate insolvency resolution case in June 2018.

The violence occurred outside the main entrance of ESL Steel Limited, in Bokaro’s Siyaljori village. The locals have alleged that the clash started when Vedanta Group’s security guards thrashed the peaceful protestors.

Vedanta, however, claimed that the protestors didn’t allow change of staff after completion of their shift, which triggered the violence.

“On November 27, the company’s guards beat us up in the presence of policemen and senior district administration officials. Many of us were injured. The cops and the officials didn’t even intervene to save us and take the injured to hospital for treatment,” Jagannath Rajwar (47), a protester from Asanbani village, told this correspondent.

“We only demanding jobs for the locals and payment of compensation.”

Rajwar added that the company “is yet to provide jobs to  locals who lost their land” more than more than 15 years after becoming operational.

“Compensation is yet to be paid. Around three months ago, the company promised to provide the promised jobs and compensation within 90 days. We started protesting outside the site only after the company failed to keep its promises,” he further added.

The Jharkhand Police, on the other hand, has claimed that none of the protestors were injured. In an FIR registered at the local police station, 40 locals have been booked for the violence though no one has been arrested.


A snippet from the local newspaper covering the protest on November 27.

“Around 250 protestors were involved in the violence. But only the cops and the company’s guards sustained injuries. The villagers resorted to stone-pelting in which certain government vehicles were also damaged,” said Bokaro superintendent of police Priyadarshi Alok.

However, the police refused to answer when asked about allegations that the guards incited the violence.

“Investigations are under way. Only a thorough enquiry will reveal who incited the violence. We will arrest the culprits after investigation is complete,” Alok told this correspondent.

According to the police and the district administration, law and order is under control following a round of talks between the protestors and the company. Besides, the company has also reportedly promised to provide jobs to the locals.

“In 2012, there was an agreement between the company and villagers to provide, at least, one job to each project-affected family. However, the company could not employ everyone seeking jobs. Further, workers were employed on contractual basis. Some of them were also later terminated,” a senior administration official requesting anonymity said.

The numbers of jobs to be provided based on the agreement is enormous, the official added. “The management and the agitators have reached a truce after it was promised that a few jobs will be provided urgently with the provision for generating more employment in future.”

The company has been at loggerheads with local communities for more than a decade for failing to meet its promise of generating adequate employment. Frequent protests were reported from outside the company’s premises much before the Vedanta takeover.

In September 2013, more than 250 protesting farmers were arrested while demanding jobs for around 1,500 people who lost their land to the project. Reportedly, the farmers were misinformed about the purpose for which the land was acquired. Besides, it was alleged that the company’s middlemen had directly purchased large tracts of land from the farmers at prices well below market rates.

The project is listed amongst the largest private steel producers in the country with a manufacturing capacity of 1.88 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). It has been mired in controversies for the past several years due to the lack of statutory clearances. Vedanta has claimed that all non-compliances were passed down to it in legacy when it acquired the company in 2018.

The unit doesn’t have consent for operations from the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) and lacks a valid environmental clearance. Its application seeking post facto clearance against encroachment of forestland is also yet to be approved.

Nevertheless, the unit continues to function based on the Supreme Court that its “operations should not be interfered with” for the lack of statutory clearances. The Vedanta Group had told the apex court that the plant “employs 3,000 regular employees and 7,000 contractual employees” and had “produced steel worth Rs  4,200 crore in the 2019-20 financial year”.

On December 9, 2021, a Division Bench of the SC comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari ordered: “The Respondent No.1 [Union of India] shall take a decision on the application of the Appellant [ESL Steel Limited] for revised EC [environmental clearance] in accordance with law, within three months from date. Pending such decision, the operation of the steel plant shall not be interfered with on the ground of want of EC, FC [forest clearance], CTE [consent to establish] or CTO [consent to operate].”

Ever since December 2017, the JSPCB hasn’t renewed the consent provided for the greenfield project’s operation. In September 2018, the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change revoked the company’s environmental clearance when the Jharkhand government informed that it had constructed the steel project at a separate location (Bhagabandh) 5.3 km away from the approved project site (Parbatpur).

The Jharkhand government also alleged that construction had taken place on notified forestland and land recorded as “jungle jhar” in revenue records without requisite clearances.

The Jharkhand High Court (HC) issued an interim stay on the EC’s revocation and directed the company to seek statutory clearances when the company filed a petition. The Narendra Modi government also granted post facto Stage I clearance in December 2019 for the encroached forestland. In August 2020, the Centre further provided terms of reference to the Vedanta Group to conduct an environmental impact assessment for procuring an environmental clearance for the project that would now have an increased capacity of 3 MTPA.

However, soon thereafter, the HC issued a seven-day ultimatum upon the project for continuing its operations in an order issued on September 16, 2020. But the company was allowed by the SC to continue operations in an order issued on September 22, 2020, a day prior to the expiry of the seven-day ultimatum period.

Huge protests were reported during the public hearing for the project’s expansion in December 2020. Nevertheless, environmental clearance was recommended for the project subject to certain terms and conditions, including procurement of forest clearance.

The ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee noted in the minutes of a meeting held on July 29,  2021: “The environment clearance shall become operative only after obtaining the necessary clearance under Forest Conservation Act, 1980. No construction/modernisation/activity shall be undertaken by the project proponent till the receipt of this FCA clearance for diversion of 184.23 ha of forestland.”

However, the ministry informed the company that EC cannot be granted because of a stay imposed in July 2021 by the Madras HC (Madurai Bench) on standard operating procedures adopted by the government for identification and handling of cases in which violation had been committed under the Environmental Impact Assessment, 2006.

Thereafter, in response to an appeal by the company, the SC issued the judgment that “the operation of the steel plant shall not be interfered with on the ground of want of” various statutory clearances. The ministry has, however, made it clear that it will not grant EC till the company procures Stage II of forest clearance. Further, on 5 June 2023, the ministry issued a cancellation order of the Stage I forest clearance.

“We have complied with almost all the conditions of environment clearance and the remaining conditions will be compiled with in the coming weeks. Vedanta believes in full compliance with the law of the land, and we are in the process of resolving all the non-compliances, inherited from the previous promoters of the company,” a Vedanta spokesperson said.

“Vedanta has not committed any non-compliance since take-over, and we are at an advanced stage of resolving the issues in accordance with law.”

In the recent past, potential bidders backed out of plans to purchase the company when Vedanta offered it for sale in November 2022. The multibillion-dollar business conglomerate has not stopped looking for prospective buyers as it pursues its strategic decision to exit the steel sector completely.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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