10, Dec 2018 | Sushmita
Even though South Korean steel major POSCO has withdrawn from Odisha, more than 2500 acres of fertile agricultural land is yet to be handed over to villagers affected by the project. According to POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti (PPSS), the state government has now decided to hand over the entire area to Jindal Steel of the Sajjan Jindal group to build a huge 10 miilion tonne capacity steel plant… all this allegedly without getting free and informed consent of villagers and Gram Panchayats that stand to be affected by the move!
At the recent “Make in Odisha” conclave organised by Chief Minister Nabin Pattnaik, Sajjan Jindal, the chairman of JSW group said that the company is already setting up a cement plant and would soon commission new berths at Paradip Port for cape-size ships. At the conclave, the Jindal group among other groups committed to investing a mammoth sum of Rs. 1 lakh crore in the area to build steel plants. PPSS has raised strong objection over this move of the government given how they failed to seek informed consent of the people and Gram Sabhas prior to allotting the land. They also reportedly, failed to follow proper legal procedures.
CJP is focusing its resources in helping Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) being targeted with false cases for fighting from the ground, to negotiate the Indian legal system and continue the good fight. Battling false and mala fide cases in the courts is a special focus action area of CJP. We have been following up the developments in the movement against the multinational giant POSCO and published a detailed story and timeline of events which can be seen here. We will be partnering with PPSS in their struggle to fight false cases on activists. Please support our efforts here.
The state-owned Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) government had forcibly acquired 2,700 acres of land for the now abandoned POSCO project. After POSCO announced withdrawal of its project, the government cancelled land allotment to POSCO and the land was saved in the supposed land bank of the state government and activists say that the “government did not feel it necessary to consult people over the fate of the land after POSCO’s withdrawal.”
As per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013 “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the original land owner.” But the government of Odisha has a somewhat different approach to this. As per Odisha government’s revised policy for land acquisition notified on February 7, 2015, “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the state and be deposited in the Land Bank automatically.” The Odisha state government seems to be making use of this clause in the POSCO case.
Even with respect to the forest land, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, recognizes and vests legal rights of local communities over forest land and community forest resources. Though the residents of Nuagaon, Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages have submitted applications to the local authorities to claim their land and forest rights, these claims have not been processed since 2011. It is to be noted that three different official committees i.e, the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the FAC – found that provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 had been violated in the proposed 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 and community forest resources.
The PPSS notes sternly,
The government must respect the unanimous resolution passed by over 2,000 people at a Gram Sabha held in October 2012 that the land used for betel cultivation was under the rights provided to the Gram Sabha under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. The state government is obligated to fulfil the statutory legal requirement of ensuring recognition and vesting of forest rights and consent over these lands after exit of POSCO, otherwise the government will be committing further a criminal offence under the FRA, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act 1989 and the amendments done in 2016. Thus under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, transfer of people’s land to Jindal is illegal.”
The people whose land and beetle vines had been forcibly destroyed and acquired by the government for POSCO have since lived a life of peril and destitution, having lost their livelihood. The PPSS notes that for many people this was an inter-generational source of livelihood and if required they will re-occupy the lands and reconstruct the vineyards.
The people have made several appeals that the forest land cant be put into the land bank. To that extent, in July 2017 the villagers filed a petition with the Kolkata bench of the National Green Tribunal and asserted that the Odisha government cant put this forest land into the land bank.
According to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the government is required to get forest ‘clearance’ or approval from the central environment ministry to use forest land for a non-forest purpose. However, there is no provision to obtain forest clearance for a ‘land bank’ under the Act. The petition adds that under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the government cannot change the use of forest land without recognizing the land and forest rights of people living or dependent on it for generations.
Their demands include:
- Urgently process individual and community forest rights claims on land it had taken over for a POSCO project instead of transferring the land to a land bank.
- Declare that there is no provision under law or under any act which provides for land acquisition for any land bank for any purpose. Thus the land must return to the original inhabitants as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013
- Make it mandatory to consult Gram Sabhas as and when a project is formulated/abandoned or withdrawn to decide over the land intended to be acquired or already acquired after using wrongful means.
- Withdraw all false and fabricated cases against innocent villagers.