Bhubaneswar: On the occasion of World Environment Day, the State Chapter of Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD),the Campaign which struggled for the enactment of historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the country in a press release vehemently criticized Govt. of Odisha for forcibly raising boundary wall over forest land acquired for POSCO and demand recognition of forest rights over those land of the concern villages in Jagatsinghpur district.
CSD is of the view that the withdrawal of the POSCO from the site is due to consistent resistance of the local people led by Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) and after POSCO withdrawal, Govt. Odisha should respect the sentiments of the local people. Emphasizing upon the forest rights act, 2006, CSD asserted that FRA recognizes Gram Sabha as “Gram Sabha Sarkar” over the forest land and since all the 2700 acres of land Govt. of Odisha said to have been acquired for POSCO is revenue forest land falling within the revenue boundaries of 7/8 affected villages, it should be recognized as community forest resource(CFR) under FRA.”
It is to be noted that three different official committees i.e., the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the FAC – found that the Forest Rights Act had been violated in the POSCO area. Besides, on several occasions in the past, the gram sabhas of the area have passed majority resolutions against any handover of their lands.
Commenting on the recent decision taken by Govt. of Odisha in High Level Clearance Authority (HLCA) meeting to hand over the 2700 acres land acquired through Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (Idco) for POSCO to JSW Steel Limited, CSD said “For ten years the people of the area have been struggling against the illegal seizure of their lands. If it hands these lands over to Jindal Steel instead of POSCO, the government will be committing a further criminal offence under the FRA, the IPC and the SC/ST Atrocities Act. Thus under the Forest Rights Act, this makes any handover illegal.
Questioning the claims of Govt. of Odisha CSD, Odisha Convenor, Gopinth Majhi said “The government keeps claiming that the people in these villages support these projects. If so, why has the government not recognized their rights and taken the consent of the affected gram sabhas, as required under the Forest Rights Act? Why has it ignored all the majority resolutions passed by gram sabhas against any handover of these lands?” “If this criminal course of action is pursued by the government, all those who believe in the rule of law and in the rights of the people of this country will oppose them”. CSD further said.
Taking serious note of the cyclone sensitivity in the area and felling of around 200,000 trees in the area by POSCO which was stopped after the intervention of NGT in May 2013, CSD has urged upon the Govt. of Odisha to restore the lost vegetation and biodiversity in the area through the concern Gram Sabhas, the authorized bodies under the historic FRA, 2006.
CSD has also called upon the community people of the affected 7 villages to get united against the unjust acts of Govt. of Odisha and to take over the forest land as per FRA.
It is to be noted that POSCO had signed a MoU with the state government on 22 June, 2005 and intended to set up a 12 million ons steel plant at a cost of 12 billion dollar. It required 4004 acres land for the project. But with the consistent agitation led by Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) over land acquisition the project delayed as a result the company had later proposed to start work on at least 8 million tons steel capacity in the first phase. Accordingly, the state-run Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Idco) had acquired around 2700 acres of forest land for the proposed project. However, POSCO decided to withdraw from the project in March 2017. When the Posco shelved the project, the State Government decided to preserve the acquired 2700 acres of land in the land bank for future industrial purpose. The boundary wall construction work was started in the site by Idco on last May 18 which was again protested by the locals.