Environment ministry endorses state government’s claim that there are no forest rights to be settled in the project area
The environment ministry on Monday gave final approval to the Odisha government to divert 1,253 hectares (ha) of forestland for the POSCO steel project in Jagatsinghpur district.
The ministry, in its final order, endorsed the state government’s claim that there are no rights to be settled under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 in the project area.
The forest clearance for the project was hanging in balance after the gram sabhas of two of the seven project affected villages passed resolutions demanding recognition of their rights under FRA. The act mandates that the tribals and other forest dwellers cannot be evicted from forestland unless the process of recognition and verification of rights is completed.
On January 31 this year, the ministry had announced that the final forest clearance to the project will be given only if the state government gives the assurance that there are no forest dwellers in the area whose rights need to be settled under FRA.
The state government communicated these assurances on April 13. However, the gram sabhas of Dhinkia and Gobindpur had sent their resolutions stating there were other traditional forest dwellers in the villages whose claims under FRA were being processed.
The state government then replied to the ministry on April 29 saying the resolutions were invalid and fraudulent. It claimed that the minimum quorum of the gram sabha as required by FRA to pass the resolution was not complete in the two cases and the due process of recording the gram sabha procedure was not followed. “The responsibility of implementing FRA lies with the state government and its views must prevail unless there is overwhelming and clinching evidence to the contrary,” wrote environment minister Jairam Ramesh in his final order.
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