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Letter to Forest Advisory Committee

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24th November 2008

P.R.Mohanty,

Director General (Forests)

Chairman, Forest Advisory Committee

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)

New Delhi

Subject: Concerns over Forest Clearance to POSCO’s steel plant and port in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa

Sir,

We have learnt through newspaper reports that the Stage I forest clearance for the POSCO steel plant and port in Orissa has already been granted by the FAC (copy of newspaper report attached). We have no transparent way to confirm this as the website of the MoEF has and continues to miss uploading any information on the clearances of the proposed Steel Plant and captive port of M/s POSCO-India in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa.

If this is indeed true, following the Supreme Court returning the project to MoEF for final decision, we are deeply concerned and disturbed with this development. There is clear evidence that despite indicating that all the project components are inter-linked in the 2005 MoU with the State government (copy enclosed), the company has sought separate clearances for each component. This has been brought to the notice of the MoEF by civil society groups prior to the environment clearances were granted, and also to the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court (copies enclosed).

Moreover it appears that this Stage 1 clearance, if it has been granted, has been given in direct violation of the law. On January 1st, 2008, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act came into force, and as per section 4(5) of that Act the removal of any forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or Other Traditional Forest Dweller from forest land under their occupation is barred until the process of recognition of rights under that Act is complete. There are a significant number of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers exercising various kinds of rights over forest land in the proposed POSCO area for past many generations. Therefore, no clearance can be granted for use of any of this land until the rights recognition process has been completed; but till date the Orissa government has not even accepted the claims filed in the area. Moreover, under sections 3(1)(i) and 5 of that statute, on March 23rd of this year the palli sabha of the village of Dhinkia – one of the affected panchayats – declared its intention to protect and manage the forests and forest land within its boundaries, which are its community forest resource. Since these are statutory powers under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, these forest areas cannot now be disturbed or destroyed without the consent of this palli sabha as the statutory authority. On both these counts, diverting this forest land would be a direct violation of the Forest Rights Act and hence a criminal offence under section 7 of that statute.

Further, we would once again like to bring to your attention the fact that the area is an extremely ecologically fragile coastal stretch in Jagatsinghpur and a forest ecosystem in Khandadhar where the mining is proposed. The report and recommendations of the CEC had taken these facts into account and also the fact that piecemeal clearance for projects should not be granted.

Through this letter we are sending you photographs, copies of submissions, articles, and appeals that highlight that the construction of the POSCO project would be illegal and suffers from procedural irregularities If granted, final clearance will be a statutory violation and lead to no less than ravaging the local ecosystem and people’s thriving livelihoods in the project area.

To reiterate: Granting of forest clearance to the POSCO project without addressing these lacunae, and the requirements of the Forest Rights Act, would be in direct violation of the law. Moreover, no ground level inspection was carried out by the concerned DFO, but only aerial route was used. The surveys for the EIA are also not complete as the local people resisting the project had disallowed entry of the EIA consultants or any other pro-POSCO people into the area. One of the biggest issues is of the break up of various components of the project to seek environment and forest clearances so that the comprehensive impact is never understood completely and also the clearance of one component can be used as fait accompli to push for clearance of another. While you might be well aware of the occurrence of these facts, they play out to the fullest in the POSCO case.

Given this fact, we strongly urge you not to grant the final forest clearance to POSCO’s steel plant and port till a comprehensive and independent assessment is carried out in a just, transparent manner. The parameters for identification of impacts, as you are aware are laid out clearly in the Forest Conservation Rules.

We look forward to your urgent intervention in this regard

Sincerely,

Manshi Asher, Independent Researcher, Palampur

Manju Menon/Kanchi Kohli, Kalpavriksh- Environmental Action Group, New Delhi

Mamata Dash, Researcher and Human Rights Activist, New Delhi

Subrat Kumar Sahu, Independent Filmmaker, New Delhi

Shankar Gopalakrishnan/ Priya Sreenivasa, Campaign for Survival and Dignity,

Ashok Agarwal, Advocate, New Delhi

Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, Bhubaneshwar

Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk, Chennai

CC: Ulhas Karanth and Mahesh Rangarajan, members FAC

Ansar Ahmed, Member Secretary, FAC

P.V.Jayakrishnan, Chairman, Central Empowered Committee

Encl:

  1. MoU between POSCO and Orissa State Government
  2. Our submission dated 15th May 2007 to Secretary, MoEF
  3. Submissions to Central Empowered Committee
  4. Articles related to the social and environmental impacts of the POSCO project
  5. Newspaper report regarding Stage I forest clearance
  6. CEC recommendations and 8.8.08 order in the Godavarman case, Supreme Court

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Written by janjagriti

November 29, 2008 at 3:56 pm

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