Orissa Government today assured the government that there was no tribal inhabitant or any other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) living at the proposed plant site villages near Paradip.

“We have submitted the assurance report to the union ministry of environment and forest. The State government maintained its earlier stand that there was no tribal or any other traditional forest dwellers living at the proposed plant site villages,” Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters.

At the time of according conditional environmental clearance to POSCO’s steel plant and captive port projects on January 31, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had sought a categorical assurance report from the State government that the provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 were not violated in the proposed plant site villages

Although, the company’s proposed 12 MTPA mega steel project got the environmental clearance, it required the forest diversion clearance from the ministry as 2,900 acres of the total requirement of 4,004 acres of land was categorised as forest land.

The ministry wanted assurance that the FRA was not violated because two of its committees - N C Saxena Committee and Meena Gupta Committee - had pointed out gross violation of FRA at the proposed plant site areas.

The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samity, a CPI backed peasant body, has appealed to Mr. Ramesh to reject the State government’s assurance report which, it claimed, concealed truth.

“We will certainly launch a country-wide agitation against the state government’s misleading report,” said PPSS President Abhay Sahu adding that the villagers had been living in the forest land for about 300 years.

However, the State government in its assurance report to the Centre argued that since the specific area was declared as forest land only in 1961, no one was therefore living there for 75 years.

“In order to meet the criteria of the FRA, one has to live in the forest area for 75 years and hold the same land prior to December, 2005,” forest department sources said.

The local people, on the other hand, exhibited revenue documents claiming that they had been staying in the place for generations.

“How can the State government claim that there is no other traditional forest dwellers in the area while our forefathers had been undertaking betel cultivation there for about 100 years,” said Dhinkia gram panchayat sarpanch Sisir Mohapatra.