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Panel to review Posco’s land acquisition plans

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The union ministry for environment and forests has set up a four-member committee headed by retired environment secretary Meena Gupta to investigate if the Orissa government has complied with the Forest Rights Act of 2006 at the Posco site in Jagatsinghpura district of the state.

The ministry’s decision comes a day after the state government began acquiring land falling in the proposed site despite the union government asking it to clarify the status on compliance with FRA which is a mandatory requirement for forest clearance. However, some observers say the ministry is trying to cover its tracks after it granted environmental clearance to the company on 1 January 2010 without any such proviso.

The government’s current stand that environmental clearance for the $12 million steel project would require that FRA settlements are done first does not clarify completely the status of the environmental clearance already granted.

The other three members of the committee are Urmila Pingle, an anthropologist on the National Tiger Conservation Authority board, Devendra Pandey of the Forest Survey of India, and B Suresh, a lawyer in the Madras High Court who has worked on tribal issues before.

On 8 January, the ministry had asked the state government to confirm if it had settled the rights of the people in the 1,253.223 hectares of forest lands, as required under the FRA, before acquiring the land.

The state government replied in March claiming all the requirements of the FRA had been met. But the claims were disputed by many, including MPs,, with accusations of falsification of documents and faking village council approvals.

In March itself, the union government wrote back to the state asking for clarifications and translation of the documents from Oriya. While the state government did not respond to the queries raised by the ministry, it on Tuesday began the acquisition process at the site.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh said, “We have not got a response from the state government till date.

The forest area cannot be handed over to the project proponents without satisfying the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. The committee under Meena Gupta will report in two months after investigating if the rights of the people under the FRA have been settled.”

Environmental activist and member of the FRA committee Ashish Kothari says that the process of settling claims under FRA had just begun in the area. ”And of course, people whose claims are recognised on the land, may well decide that they do not want the project,” he said.

Out of the total 4,004 acres of land required for the project, 2,900 acres is forest land and the process of settling claims hasjust begun.

The environment ministry is silent on the matter. Ramesh in a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha said the clearance was subject to environmental law. The stategovernment had in March said there were no tribal people residing in the designated forest land.

Shankar Gopalkrishnan of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD) said under such circumstances, the legality of the process of land acquisition was moot. ”We are now awaiting the process of settlement of claims and just how fair that is going to be,” he said.


Written by janjagriti

July 31, 2010 at 4:24 am

Posted in Articles

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