Orissa is the poorest State with an official estimate of 39.9 % of people living below the poverty line, yet, with regard to the proposed investment it stands only second to Gujarat. According to the Assocham Investment Meter the recorded investment proposals in Orissa reached Rs. 2,00,846 crore (roughly 40 billion USD) in 2009. The cause is the availability of rich mineral resources such as coal and iron ore along with cheap and easy availability of manpower. Steel and power were among the sectors which attracted maximum proposed investments in the state.
The $12 billion Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) project in Orissa is the largest foreign investment project ever in India. This project has three components:
Steel plant: in Jagatsinghpur District, coastal area.
Private port: at the mouth of the river Jatadhari, close to steel plant area; the MoU only makes reference to the possibility of a “minor port” being created.
This vast project of necessity strains the nation’s less than coherent institutional framework, and in the process illuminates today’s ruling forces and the way in which they go about achieving their aims.
The elements of the assault are familiar: dispossession of tribal cultivators and the despoiling of the environment.
The parliamentary democracy has made something of a spectacle of the construction of the legislation that would appear to strictly regulate, if not prohibit outright, what is underway in Orissa today (the Forest Rights Act, etc. etc.). But statutory language does not interpret itself, and not surprisingly the ministries and judiciary are doing whatever is necessary on behalf of the ruling interests. Thus the tribal cultivators first disappear from the legal reality, before their disappearance from reality itself courtesy of the next “Tribal Hunt” operation of Chidambaram & Co.
POSCO needs approximately 4004 acres, of which only 10% belong to the cultivators. The rest of the land required belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in the official documentation. Government records do not show that the vast majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations.
Tribal cultivators are then termed as “encroachers”, and their eviction from mineral rich forest and hill tracts follows “legally”. Much lauded statutory provisions that purport to give protection to indigenous forest dwellers are ignored by the relevant ministries to achieve the same result.
POSCO has delinked the mining project from the plant construction in order to get the vast project underway. A license for over 2,500 hectares for the proposed Khandadhar iron ore mines has been recommended by the Orissa State government, despite opposition from other companies and locals. But existing iron ore mining in the region has already severely impacted the water resources of a large region inhabited by many thousands. In the immediate region of the proposed mines the only constant water source are waterfalls that are already contaminated from iron mining and the water is now not safe for drinking. In the larger surrounding region the Central Underground Water Board has reported that the underground water level in Joda and Barbil river areas has subsided by four metres, that forty percent of the region’s 8,000 tube wells no longer function, and that nearly half of the irrigated land can no longer rely on water from the Khandadhar waterfalls.
Meanwhile, the state government is understood to have put on hold the process of renewal of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Posco India which expired on June 22 this year. The MoU was signed in June 2005 and was valid for a period of five years.
On October 26th the state Government put forth its stand that no laws had been violated at the project site of the South Korean major Posco’s proposed steel plant near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) deliberated on the recommendations of the Meena Gupta Committee on Posco.
The State government’s stand at the meeting was focused on three points. That there has been no violation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the project. There are no traditional forest-dwellers in the project area.
Besides, the rehabilitation and resettlement policy (R&R) of the State announced for the Posco project is one of the best.
The state government which has already filed its response to the two separate reports of the Meena Gupta panel on the Posco project and requested the Centre to allow work on the Posco project to continue, is awaiting the right signals from the Centre to renew the MoU with Posco India.
- Orissa moves Supreme Court over POSCO mining (topinews.com)
- 4-member panel visits Posco site in Orissa (ibnlive.in.com)
- Central team visits Posco project site (thehindu.com)