The Union environment ministry has illegally given final clearance to the POSCO steel project on the basis of false claims made by the Odisha government, a group of activists said on Wednesday and demanded revocation of the clearance.
The ministry gave the final approval to the state government to divert 1,253 hectares (ha) of forestland in favour of POSCO on May 2. While doing so it set aside the resolutions of two gram sabhas in the project affected areas refusing to part away with their lands for the project. It endorsed the claim of the state government that the two resolutions were invalid and fraudulent. The state government had claimed that the required quorum of the two third adult population of the village was not complete in the meeting of gram sabha where the resolution was passed. It also said the gram sabha was not legally convened and the resolution was not recorded under the prescribed formats of the Odisha Gram Panchayat Rules 1946.
The ministry, on the basis of these claims accorded the final clearance to the project. In a press conference, organised by the POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity along with other non-profits working for the forest rights, the activists said all these were “barefaced lies”. “More than 70 per cent people living in the villages had signed the resolutions. The list went upto more than 2,000 names.
The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) had e-mailed just the first page of the list to the ministry. The rest of the pages were sent to the ministry and the state government via registered post. Now, they are just counting the signatures in the first page and not considering the hard copies sent to them,” says Mamata Dash of the National Forum for the Forest People and the Forest Workers (NFFPFW). Souparno Lahiri of NFFPFW said the gram sabha meeting were convened legally under the procedures of the Forest Rights Act and the provisions of the Odisha Gram Panchayat Rules 1946 did not apply to such meetings. “FRA is a central act which overrides any other state act. You cannot revoke a state act to prove the process under FRA as illegal,” he said. The activists also raised the question over the validity of such clearance when the Memorandum of Understanding between the state government and POSCO had expired last year. “Every government activity in the favour of the project is invalid when there is no MoU,” says Anil Chaudhury of the Indian Social Action Forum, a network of non-profits. The activists along with the PPSS are now planning to move the court against the clearance.
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