POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Letter
To Minister of Environment and Forests
11 August, 2010
Shri Jairam Ramesh
Minister of Environment and Forests
Sub:- Regarding POSCO project – need for withdrawal of illegal final clearance; new Meena Gupta Committee clearly aimed at delaying matters
We are the people's organisation spearheading the struggle against the illegal and unjust POSCO project in Orissa. We are writing to you in the context of the ongoing illegalities being committed by the Orissa government and the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests in connection with this project. We also condemn the decision of the Ministry to constitute yet another Committee to “look into the matter” instead of remedying its own illegal decision to grant final forest clearance to the project on December 29, 2009.
We wish to bring the following to your attention. While we welcome the stop work order of the Ministry dated August 6, 2010, we condemn the Ministry's failure to withdraw the illegal clearance granted on December 29, 2009 to the project. We, political leaders and now your Ministry's own Committee to Study the Forest Rights Act (the NC Saxena Committee) have all pointed out that:
We are indeed Other Traditional Forest Dwellers and eligible for rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. It may be noted that the palli sabhas of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Govindpur have also asserted this fact and it is therefore now simply illegal for any other authority to deny it without going through the process under the Forest Rights Act.
As we are other traditional forest dwellers, our consent is required for the diversion of any forest land (this is also stated in your own Ministry's circular of August 3, 2009). The palli sabhas of Nuagaon, Dhinkia and Govindpur have denied consent to any diversion on February 4, 5 and 6 of this year, which has also been admitted by your Ministry in its latest “stop work” order.
The process under the Forest Rights Act has not been completed in the area. No rights have been recognised and no claims processed. This has also been admitted by the Ministry and by the Orissa government itself, which has said in writing to you that it has not processed any claims.
In short, every single condition required with respect to the Forest Rights Act for a legal forest clearance has not been met; but the clearance was granted anyway on December 29, 2009. Moreover, now that the palli sabhas have denied their consent, all other issues become irrelevant, and the clearance is invalid in any case. If the Ministry intends to comply with the law, it has no choice but to withdraw the clearance and reject the project's application.
Yet instead of doing this, we now find the Ministry has constituted yet another Committee to “investigate” the status of “implementation of the Forest Rights Act” as well as “relief and rehabilitation” (vide its order dated 28.07.2010). It is clear that this new Committee is nothing but a delaying tactic intended to muddy the waters. What exactly is this Committee going to do? Please consider:
The Committee cannot investigate whether or not we are eligible under the Act; we have already produced documentary proof of the same which has been accepted by the NC Saxena committee. In any case, at the most this can only be challenged by anyone through the process under the Forest Rights Act; the District Collector's lies about the lack of eligible persons have no legal standing and should have been rejected in the first place. How many more Committees do you need to “investigate” this matter? What are they going to “investigate”?
Although we are eligible under the Forest Rights Act, the Orissa government itself admits that it has not processed any claims. It is therefore clear that the Act has not been implemented. What exactly is there for the Committee to “ascertain”?
The fact that the palli sabhas of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Govindpur have denied consent for the project in February 2010 is known and accepted. This requires no “investigation” except looking at the concerned panchayat registers. The clearance is therefore invalid. How then is any further investigation relevant?
The key question before the government is why the Ministry issued a clearance on December 29, 2009, in violation of the law and its own orders and despite having none of the required documents. This can only be answered by the Ministry, not by any inquiry in our area.
There is a direct conflict of interest in the composition of the Committee, in that the Chairperson was herself the Secretary of Environment and Forests when the project was granted environmental clearance. As such she is being asked to review a project which she has already taken a decision in favour of.
We may also note that on June 22 the MoU with POSCO for this project lapsed. In light of this the entire basis for the forest clearance becomes infructuous as there is no longer any project in existence. If a new MoU is signed, the existing clearance is in any case invalid as it relates to the earlier proposal.
In sum, there is no purpose in the Committee “investigating and ascertaining” any matters with respect to the Forest Rights Act. It also cannot look into any questions of “relief and rehabilitation” because no rehabilitation has been done yet. It cannot even consider the general wisdom of the clearance because there is no longer any clarity on what the project is.
We therefore reject this irrelevant Committee as an obvious attempt to delay and confuse matters. No doubt some elements will try to use it to muddy the waters and come up with bureaucratic excuses for continuing to violate the law. We call upon you to cancel this committee, withdraw the illegal forest clearance and finally reject the application by POSCO-India for diversion of forest land in Jagatsinghpur. This is the minimum that is required by law. We will continue our peaceful and democratic agitation for our rights.
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Contact: Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti: 09437571547