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Violation of FRA in Posco project area alleged

Former bureaucrat writes to Union Minister Jairam Ramesh

The ongoing land acquisition and demolition of betel vines by the Jagatsinghpur district administration in the area chosen for the proposed steel plant of Posco-India Private Limited was in violation of the Forest Rights Act, according to N.C. Saxena, former bureaucrat heading a four-member panel looking into alleged violation of the Act in the site of the proposed project.

In a letter to Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh about acquisition of forest land by the Jagatsinghpur administration, Mr. Saxena has requested the Minister to take up the matter with the State Government for proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

“We have been informed that the district administration is proceeding with land acquisition.

“Our clear view is that such work is in violation of the Forest Rights Act. We therefore request you to urge the Orissa Government to ensure proper implementation of FRA as laid down in the MoEF's July 2009 circular,” Mr. Saxena said.

Mr. Saxena, who is heading a four-member joint team of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, said that three members of the Committee who visited the POSCO project area last month had found that there were other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) in the area, contrary to what the district administration was saying.

“The FRA process has not been completed; in fact it has not proceeded beyond the initial stages, for various reasons. It is therefore incorrect for the district administration to conclude that there are no OTFDs in the area, without having gone through the process of claims,” Mr. Saxena said. He pointed out that the Palli Sabhas had given resolutions refusing to consent to diversion of forest land on which they were dependent.

“Interestingly, for a patch of forest land close to the land proposed to be diverted for POSCO, Palli Sabha consent was reportedly sought and obtained by the administration for an Indian Oil Corporation Limited complex. Yet in the case of POSCO the administration is saying it is not needed,” Mr. Saxena said.

The three members of the Committee had informed the district administration on July 24 and the State Chief Secretary on July 27 that any work related to the project in the area would be a violation of the FRA, Mr. Saxena said.

Meanwhile, the administration continued the process of demolition of paan cultivation vines in Gadakujang gram panchayat despite strong opposition from a section of local people under the banner of Bhitamati Surakshya Janamanch. The land acquisition process was carried out during day amid tight security and about 20 cultivators whose vines were demolished were paid compensation.

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