Move violates stay order of National Green Tribunal, say protesting activists
In spite of vociferous protests, South Korean steel giant, POSCO, began construction of the boundary wall around its project site in Nuagaon gram panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha. Work on the big ticket controversial steel project had been stalled for about five months.
Activists opposing the project have questioned the legality of the construction work at the site, saying it violates the order of the National Green Tribunal.
“It’s unfortunate to note that such activity is not permitted given the fact that National Green Tribunal has imposed stay on felling of trees in the proposed steel plant site in May this year. There cannot be any tree-cutting or ancillary project work since the NGT stay is yet to be vacated,” said Prasant Paikray, spokesperson of the anti-POSCO outfit, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity (PPSS). “The steel company, backed by the Odisha government, has made a mockery of the environment laws. They have gone ahead with the construction work by setting aside the larger public interest and permanent livelihood of land-losers,” he added.
“While building boundary wall, standing trees that came on the way were felled in defiance of NGT stay order. We will bring it to the attention of NGT,” Paikray said.
People staged a protest on Saturday. However, the company intimidated them by deploying hired musclemen at the construction site, the activist alleged. People had to retreat from the place as they were outnumbered, he said.
The boundary wall is being erected around a 1,703 acre land parcel (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) handed over to the steel company. “The government is yet to hand over the rest of the land required for the steel project,” said S K Mallick, district collector of Jagatsinghpur.
“All the residents are cooperating with us in the construction work. We will build 12.5 kilometre-long boundary wall within ten months. POSCO decided to engage only locals as workers in this work,” said S N Singh, general manager (construction) of POSCO. Singh denied that any force had been used to intimidate village residents.
Three months ago, many anti- POSCO residents prevented the contractors and workers of the private company from digging a trench for construction of the boundary wall.
When contacted, Sishir Kumar Mohapatra, general secretary of PPSS, said: “We hope NGT will deliver its judgement in favour of the local people. In 2010, the Saxena committee and Meena Gupta committee in their reports stated that the state government violated Forest Right Act in approving the project.”
Pro-POSCO residents, too, cry foul
“The authorities have betrayed us by not fulfilling our six demands. After the construction of the boundary wall, the government will not listen our demands. We will oppose the construction of boundary wall,” said Tamil Pradhan Nirvaya, vice-president of United Action Committee (UAC), a pro- POSCO outfit.
The six-point charter of UAC made the following demands: measurement of betel vines from stay to stay instead of fence to fence; raising the compensation for betel vine workers from 20 to 30 per cent of the amount being paid to the vine owners; provision of job to each of the 3,000 project-affected family of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadkujang panchayats; increasing the price of agricultural and homestead land; giving contract work to the local contractors during construction; and paying compensation to the beneficiaries who had demolished their betel vines after the 2008 survey.
Anjali Pradhan, sarpanch of Nuagaon gram panchayat, also criticised POSCO. “It is illegal on the part of POSCO to start the construction of boundary wall without fulfilling our demands.”
The proposed steel plant project got a boost when the district administration completed the land acquisition work by acquiring 2,700 acres on July 4 in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujang gram panchayats.
POSCO had earlier proposed a 12 million tonne per annum (mtpa) capacity steel plant. But later the steel company had whittled down the project to eight mtpa and sought minimum 2,700 acres of land to start construction. The US $12 billion steel project is billed as the country's biggest FDI project.
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