Honour 2012 Gram Sabha resolution, return 2,700 acres land for betel cultivation, stop steel project


Recent media reports say that 2,700 acres of land in Odisha’s Paradip Area is again sought to be handed to a private player  for a port. Statement by the POSCO Pratirodh  Sangram Samiti (PPSS) opposing the move, which has begun with that the construction a wall around the land:

It was the sustained and peaceful resistance of the people that compelled POSCO to exit finally. Despite the success of the struggle it has been recently learned hat the government of Odisha is planning to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to hand over our land to another company named JSW Steel Limited. JSW Steel Limited is a part of the Sajjan Jindal controlled JSW Group.

The company is likely to invest Rs 50,000 crore for the 10 mtpa steel mill and a 900 MW capacity power plant.  The company has also pledged an investment of Rs 2,000 crore to set up a captive port in Odisha’s coast at Jatadhari Muhan near Paradip.  The Committee  has declared that they  will continue to fight against this forceful acquisition of our land,
In 2011, over 2,700 acres of land was forcefully acquired by the state-owned Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) for the proposed Posco project. After the POSCO announced withdrawal of its project, the government had cancelled the land allotment to Posco and kept it in its land bank.

According to the  Right to Fair Compensation and Transperancy 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.”

However,  the protestors have alleges that the Odisha government — to counter the pro people impact of the central law — enacted the ‘Odisha government’s revised policy for land acquisition notified on February 7, 2015’  under which “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.”

Meanwhile,  the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO) authority has started boundary wall construction near Nuagaon in late May 2017. The boundary wall is likely to be built around 18 km covering adjacent villages Nuagaon, Govindapur, Polanga, Gadakujanga and Baynapala kondh at an estimated cost of Rs 13 crore. The wall will eventually fence off the nearby Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages too.

Members of the PPSS from Nuagaon village strongly protested against the construction of boundary wall around a 1,700 hectare piece of land on the village’s periphery. The fencing of the land by IDCO is unwarranted and illegal, as the authorities have not settled our forest rights claims. Their claim is that the vovernment of Odisha has consistently failed to recognize both their individual and community rights over forest lands under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) Act (FRA) 2006.

To strongly register their protest,  residents of Nuagaon, Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages have submitted applications to the local authorities to claim their land and forest rights, but these claims have not been processed since 2011.

Significantly,  three different official committees i.e., the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the FAC – found that 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.

The Committee  has demanded that 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. 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 Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act 1989. Thus under the Forest Rights Act of 2006, this makes any handover illegal.

The people whose land and beetle vines are allegedly forcefully destroyed and acquired by the government for POSCO, have lost their livelihood sources and now reduced to daily wage earners. Most of these families have farmed beetle leaves for generations, which they sell to earn a livelihood. They have no other employable skills. This is  why the Samiti had given a call and are determined to re-occupy these lands and reconstruct their vineyards.

It was on March 30, 2012, that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the environmental clearance for the project, calling for a fresh review due to concerns over the original environmental impact assessment.  However about 200,000 trees were felled despite the suspension. In May 2013, the NGT reiterated the project’s lack of environmental clearance and ordered POSCO to stop felling trees. In March 2017, POSCO stated that it was withdrawing from the project and requested the Odisha government to take back the land transferred to the company.

In July 2017, our villagers have filed a petition with the Kolkata bench of the National Green Tribunal. It’s has been asserted that the Odisha government cannot 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.
At present, the PPSS is struggling to provide legal defence for a total of 420 individuals.  In addition, warrants have been issued against 2500 people, including 500 women. Of these, approximately 400 of these individuals were, in fact, arrested. The remaining 2,000 (approximately) have remained at permanent risk of arrest and being denied their liberty.

Demands of the PSS:

1.     The government must also immediately stop the construction of a boundary wall around the land and allow  communities to access common lands that have traditionally depended on for livelihoods.

2.      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.

3.    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.

4.     The government of Odisha must follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Singur issue in which  the land of farmers bought for the Tata Nano plant was returned to them,

5.     Withdraw all false and fabricated cases on villagers.

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