The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which makes recommendations on forest clearances, has considered the report by a committee, headed by National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena. The panel has condemned both Vedanta Aluminium and the Orissa government for blatant violations of the Forest Rights Act.
The FAC will forward the Saxena Committee report to Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh with some minor changes. Sources say it has recommended “temporary withdrawal of the in-principle clearance,” largely due to the blatant violations of the Forest Rights Act.
Mr. Patnaik was in New Delhi on Monday to discuss the Posco steel plant, Vedanta mine and the Polavaram dam with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Ramesh.
Rahul to visit
Asked about Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s proposal to visit Niyamgiri later this week, Mr. Patnaik told reporters that “Mr. Rahul Gandhi is free to visit any place whenever he likes.” However, he immediately added that “developmental progress of the State ought not to be hindered.” On an earlier visit to Niyamgiri in 2008, Mr. Gandhi had championed the tribals’ cause in their battle against the mine proposal. BJD leaders have been opposing his visit this week.
The Chief Minister sounded confident about Posco. He said Dr. Singh assured him “that he would expedite” the Rs.54,000-crore steel project, which faces land-acquisition protests.
Speaking to journalists, Mr. Patnaik repeatedly emphasised that “the biggest ever foreign direct investment in the country” would bring revenue and jobs to local people, and that any withdrawal of the forest clearance at this stage would “raise serious questions about the credibility of the Government of India.”
Sources said that with protests largely being confined to one village, the government may work out a compromise allowing those villagers to retain their land, while the steel plant comes up around them.
A committee, headed by the former Environment Secretary, Meena Gupta, would visit the site and submit its report by the end of next month before a final decision is taken, said Mr. Ramesh.
The clearance granted to the Polavaram dam on the Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh is central to the Orissa government’s argument that the Centre is biased against it. The claim is that tribal villages in Orissa will be submerged by the dam. Both Dr. Singh and Mr. Ramesh assured Mr. Patnaik that no submergence would be allowed in his State.