Orissa High Court today issued notices to the State and Central governments and Posco India on a PIL alleging illegal forest clearance granted in favour of the company for a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district.

A division bench of Chief Justice V Gopal Gowda and Justice B N Mohapatra of the HC issued the notices after preliminary hearing on a PIL and adjourned the matter to be heard again next week on May 25.

Nishakar Khatua and five others of Gobindapur village under Dhinkia panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district where the proposed 12 MT per annum capacity steel plant is proposed to be set up, have filed the PIL stating that the forest clearance granted to the company has been done contrary to Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006.

The petitioners have also stated that the forest clearance also violates Article 14, 19, 21 and 300-A read with Articles 38, 39 (a, b and c), 39A, 46, 48A and 51-A(g) of the Constitution of India.

Challenging several central and State government circulars and orders in favour of Posco, the petitioners have also questioned the actions of different departments of the Orissa government in the matter.

Submitting more than 25 annexures in the plea, the petitioners have listed Union ministries of environment and forests, tribal affairs, Posco and six departments of the Orissa government as opposite parties. The High Court has issued notices to all the opposite parties.

The petitioners claim that they are directly affected by the illegal order purporting to forest clearance and diversion of forest land to Posco as they belong to ‘other forest dwellers’ as per the Forest Rights Act.

The petitioners maintain that they are victims of non-implementation of the FRA for the purpose of recognition and vesting of their forest rights which they have been enjoying since generation.

The petition also claims that out of 1620.496 hectares of land earmarked for setting up the steel plant, about 1253.225 hectares are forest land that includes 68.98 hectares of Jatadhar Reserve Forest, 1106.877 of Dhinkia-Nuagaon Protected forest, 27.68 hectares of Noliasahi Protected Forest and 49.688 hectares of Revenue Forest.

“Around 74 percent of the total land to be utilized for the proposed steel plant thus comes under forest category and there are at least 3,578 families, including the petitioners are going to be affected in terms of livelihood for diversion of forest land and for displacement”, the petition said.

Stating as many 30 grounds to oppose the impugned orders of forest clearance given to Posco, the petitioners have prayed the HC to hold and declare that the petitioners are entitled to all the forest rights as per the concerned Act after quashing the orders and circulars passed by the central and State governments on the issue.

The petition has also urged the HC to direct the State government not to take any coercive action under police power to remove the petitioners from the forest land under their occupation. It has also sought a direction to the State government to stop all work on the Posco project until disposal of the petition.