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Unsure Posco gets forest clearance

Written By mediavigil on Saturday, January 02, 2010 | 5:12 AM

Note: The proposed Rs 54,000-crore steel plant of South Korean company POSCO in Orissa got forest clearance for acquiring land but everything depends on the Orissa government because 90% of the 4,004-acre land required for the project belong to the state government and the remaing 10 % belongs to the villagers who are fiercely opposed to the plant.

This fourth largest steel company in the world is attempting to acquire 438 acres of land that belong to local farmers who are refusing to part with it. For five years the villagers of Erasama block of Jagatisinghpur district in Orissa have resisted takeover of their landinvolving setting up of an integrated steel and power plant, a private port and mining of over 600 million tonnes of Orissa's high grade iron ore.

The company needs some 4004 acres, of which 3,566 acres is government land but rest belong to the farmers. The rest of the land required officially belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in official documentation. Government records do not show that the majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations.

POSCO is accused of threatening people's livelihoods with its plan to build a 12 Million Tonne Per Annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant, captive port and mines.
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti undertook a non-violent long march of 150 kms between Paradip and Puri parallel to the east coast during 29 November to 5 December 2009 to protest against the displacement of over 30,000 villagers, their agricultural and fishing zone. All the major anti-mining, anti-displacement movements around Orissa have joined hands against forced displacement of people to protect their homes, livelihoods and the ecology of the area.

POSCO operations commenced after POSCO-India was registered byt attemmpts to acquire land for the proposed plant and port has been defeeated strong local opposition since early 2006 under 'POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti' (PPSS) (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement).

POSCO has applied for prospecting licenses and direct leases for mining. The license would allow the company to mine on 2,500 hectares in iron ore rich Khandadhar in Sundergarh district. These areas are currently covered with dense forest, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and flora. The Indigenous communities living there are totally dependent on these forests for fuel, fodder, fruits and medicinal plants. The water springs that exist there provide water for drinking as well as irrigation. The mining will affect the Khandadhar waterfall.

As per the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Government of Orissa is to permit draw and use of water (near about 12 thousand to 15 thousand crore liters) from the Mahanadi barrage at Jobra and Naraj in Cuttack for construction and operation of the “Overall Project”. It will adversely impact the drinking and agricultural water supply of Cuttack and neighboring four districts. It poses threat to Gahirmala Marine Sanctuary, where nearly 400,000 Olive Ridleys turtles come to nest every year.
The proposed POSCO port poses a fresh threat to the livelihoods of several fishing communities as the Jatadhari estuary serves as a spawning and breeding ground for several species of fish. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of POSCO Captive port at Jatadhar Mohan Creek Paradeep Port has completely missed out on addressing the issues of cumulative impact on people and habitat residing in the close vicinity as well as the land where the project is proposed.

Government repression ofthe local community has commenced with several false cases against the actvists and villagers. In October 2008, Abhaya Sahoo was arrested and 32 “false cases” were charged against him. Sahoo is the leader of anti POSCO movement.

Posco gets forest clearance, but unsure about kick-starting work

BHUBANESWAR: POSCO India, which got clearance from the Union environment ministry to acquire forest lands for its proposed Rs 54,000-crore steel plant in Orissa, is non-committal about an early start of the project as it is yet to hear from the state on transferring the required land.

“It is alright that we have received the forest clearance. But everything depends on the state government for starting the work at the proposed plant site”, a senior executive, who wished to unidentified said here on Friday.

Construction of the project was originally scheduled to start in April 2008.

Stating that 90% or nearly 3,600 acres of the 4,004-acre land required for the project belong to the state government, while the rest remain under private control, he said the authorities are yet to hand over any land to them.

The state has so far transferred only 516.74 acre to the company through a lease deed. “We are yet to acquire an inch of land at the proposed plant site near Paradip,” he said, adding they cannot make any progress unless it is provided with the requisite land.

However, Posco India general manager-external relations Simanta Mohanty had said on Thursday that the company got the clearance from the Union environment ministry on December 30 to acquire forest lands and is keen to start work soon.

“We are ready to commence work on the much-awaited project any day now,” Mr Mohanty had said, adding the foundation stone could be laid any day. Though the company is all set for the work to begin as soon as possible, it may not get the required land at the site, the executives pointed out adding there is nothing significant to bring cheer after getting the final clearance from the Union Ministry.

While Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik has been saying that his government is for peaceful industrialisation, the people opposing the project are in no mood to allow the project.

The activists of the CPI-backed Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti has already announced their preparedness to sacrifice their lives for protecting the “fertile” land demarcated for housing the 12-mtpa greenfield steel plant.

As the opponents are adamant on their stand in opposing the mega project, it is very difficult for the state government to acquire the land and hand them over to the company, they said.

Though top Posco officials, after their meeting with the Patnaik a few months ago, had expressed optimism about beginning the work at the site in January, little progress has since been made in land acquisition, sources pointed out.

Sensing the ground realities, the company officials are now making efforts to win the confidence of the local people and highlight the manner in which the proposed project will benefit them, they said.

2 Jan 2010, ET Bureau & Agencies

The Economic Times
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