Timeline Of Events In POSCO Project Area
Relating To Forest Rights
By Campaign for Survival and Dignity
15 May, 2010
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
June 22, 2005: MoU signed between Orissa government and POSCO-India, subsidiary of the POSCO Corporation of South Korea. MoU pertains to an integrated iron ore mine – steel plant – private port project. Rs. 51,000 crore investment is spoken of. Critics point out that there are almost no linkages with local or national economy; operation consists of extracting iron ore while paying extremely low rates of royalty, processing into steel without paying full land, electricity, water or tax costs (due to SEZ status and use of State government’s powers for all these resources), and exporting it.
MoU allocates an area of 4,004 acres for the steel plant in Jagatsinghpur District. Of this, 1,253 hectares (approximately 3,000 acres) are officially classified as forest land. However, this “forest land” is largely under cultivation by various betel vine, cashew nut and other cash crop cultivators as well as people engaged in aquaculture. Some of these people have lived in the area for over a century and most have been there for several decades. The land was classified as forest land as a result of an agitation in the 1950’s demanding afforestation in the area. The main actual forests of the area are mangroves, which occupy only a small part of the “forest” land.
Due to absence of title, out of an estimated 4,000 families that will be physically displaced by the steel plant, only 270 odd are officially entitled to compensation.
August / September 2005: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti formed to oppose project. A people’s blockade declared in three gram panchayat areas affected by plant. The blockade allows all persons entry and exit except government officials and POSCO employees. The Samiti calls for negotiations. No negotiations have been held till date.
December 18, 2006: Forest Rights Act passed by Parliament. Some sections that are relevant:
2(o) declares that all those living on forest land for at least three generations (75 years), as well as forest dwelling scheduled tribes, have rights under the Act
3(1)(a) recognises right to land under occupation and/or cultivation in forest areas
3(1)(c) recognises right to own, use, collect, dispose of minor forest produce
4(5) bars removal of any forest dweller without recognition of rights
5 empowers gram sabha to protect and manage forests as a statutory authority
November 29, 2007: Police and hired goondas attack PPSS dharna at one entry point with bombs – more than 50 people injured – dharna tent demolished. The protesters are driven back into one gram panchayat (Dhinkia). Police set up camps in the schools of the other two villages, deploy in heavy force.
January 1, 2008: Forest Rights Act notified into force.
August 8, 2008: Supreme Court upholds “in principle” clearance for use of forest land but directs Environment Ministry to proceed “in accordance with law.” No final clearance granted. The case is only between Orissa government, Central governent and POSCO; no opponents to the project are represented.
March 23, 2008: Gram sabha of Dhinkia passes resolution electing a Forest Rights Committee and starting process of inviting claims under the Forest Rights Act. Resolution also states the gram sabha’s decision to protect the surrounding area from environmental destruction in exercise of its powers under section 5. Claism are filed, but Sub-Divisional Officer illegally refuses to accept them. The State government takes no steps to implement Act in the area. Claims are till this date with the gram sabha.
August 3, 2009: Following prolonged protest, Environment Ministry issues circular
clearly stating that no application for “diversion” (i.e. clearance for non-forest use) can be made without inter alia certificates from gram sabhas of the affected area stating that:
1. The process of implementation of the Forest Rights Act is complete and all rights have been recognised
2. That they consent to the diversion after being informed of the nature and details of the project and rehabilitation project.
50% quorum is required. Without these requirements, the Ministry says, no final clearance can be granted.
December 29, 2009: In violation of its own circular and the Forest Rights Act, Ministry grants final clearance for diversion of forest land.
January 5, 2010: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti writes to Ministry against illegal action. CPI also raises issue, and various people’s organisations protest.
January 8, 2010: Environment Ministry “clarifies” that clearance is subject to the August 3rd, 2009 circular, including “informed consent of the tribal people” (emphasis added). There are no tribals in the area, but there are people eligible as other traditional forest dwellers, who are also protected to the same extent by the Forest Rights Act. Taking advantage of this obvious and illegal loophole, POSCO responds within a few days that there are no tribals in the area. Despite the “clarification”, illegal final clearance is not withdrawn and all government officials are treating it as final.
First week of February, 2010: In response to a request from the Collector for the opinion of the gram sabhas, all three in the steel plant area pass resolutions refusing consent for diversion of forest land and demanding recognitin of their rights and power to protect forests. As per law, the forest clearance is now clearly illegal and has to be withdrawn. Despite this, till date MoEF has done nothing and the clearance is standing.
February 2010: PPSS begins a three month dharna at main entry point at Balitutha.
May 11 2010: 25 platoons of police deploy in the area. Attack on protesters expected at any moment.
May 15 2010: Attack begins. At least 50 people injured, market areas and protest camps burned, police attacking people.