Posco stumbles

Centre asks the steel giant to get forest dwellers’ consent  

By Ruhi Kandhari
Published: Monday 15 February 2010

South  Korean steel giant Posco’s faces another hurdle in Orissa even though it has invited bids from contractors and vendors for its proposed Rs 54,000 crore steel project.

The Union environment ministry on January 8 wrote to the state government that the project can go ahead only with the consent of forest dwellers, as required under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The ministry had given permission to divert the forestland on December 29, 2009 to Posco for setting up 12-million tonnes integrated steel plant in Jagatsingpur district.

Of the 1,620 hectares (ha) required for the plant, 1,197 ha is forestland, spread over seven villages in the district. About 3,000 families live on this forestland. “They have been growing betel vines and cashew nuts on this forestland for decades and hence claim forest rights,” said Abhaya Sahoo of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, a group opposing the project.

The gram sabha of one of the affected villages, Dhinkia, has already filed individual and community claims for their forest rights. The villagers have also demarcated boundaries of the forest area they depend on for a living and passed a gram sabha resolution not to divert the area for the project.

In view of the fierce opposition from people, the state government recently convened a high-level meeting and decided it would seek public opinion within the next two months on compensation and settlement villagers would receive.

The steel major signed an MoU with the state government in June 2005, but has not been able to acquire land so far. “We will begin the construction work as soon as the state government gives physical possession of the land to us,” said Simanta Mohanty, spokesperson of Posco-India.

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