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Unresolved conflicts characterize environmental nod to 70 of 75 projects involving 7.28 lakh ha land: Study

Protest against the POSCO project in Jagatsinghpur, Odisha
By Rajiv Shah
A recent research study has said that of the “75 cases of conflict over land use change” involving 7,28,673 hectares (ha) “officially transferred through environmental clearance process”, in as many of 70 conflicts have remained unresolved even today. The projects have been chosen out of a list of environmental clearances granted to 14,498 projects, uploaded on the Union environment ministry’s website as of October 2017.
Most of the land use changes carried out for satisfying the demand for "developmental" needs relate to infrastructure expansion and industrial acceleration, and urbanisation.
Pointing out that “in five cases the conflicts have been resolved as per publicly available information, and in 2 cases the conflicts are unresolved but closed”, the study, “Midcourse Manoeuvres: Community strategies and remedies for natural resource conflicts in India”, defines a conflict to mean “the first known collective action against an existing or an upcoming project.”
The four sectors covered in the study are mining, power generation, industry and port development, the study says, adding, the two for which the conflicts have been dropped, even if they remain unresolved, are Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi and Sompeta Super Critical Coal Based Thermal Power Plant in Andhra Pradesh (PPP).
Carried out by Kanchi Kohli, Meenakshi Kapoor, Manju Menon and Vidya Viswanathan of the CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Program (2018), and supported by the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, the study says, of the 75 projects, “there are 46 thermal power plants” which have been “contested” to have “allocated 5,82,722 ha of land.”
The study further says, “In 70 of the 75 cases where conflicts are ongoing, we see that the conflict persisted for a period of 7 years or average age of 8.4 years as the time period during which the conflict had persisted.”
“The longest ongoing conflict among the 75 cases is on the Tehri Hydropower Plant in Uttarakhand, going on for more than 45 years, while the most recent conflict is Nyamjang Chhu Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh, which started 1.7 years back”, the study notes.
The study says, “While in some cases the conflict had persisted even before a project was granted environment clearance, in some others, it seems to have appeared only after construction activity had begun”, adding, “Out of 75 cases, in 36 cases the environment approval was given to the project after the conflict began, and in 39 cases the conflict arose after the project got an environmental approval.”
Identifying three causes of conflicts, the study says, the first one is “non-fulfillment of assurances related to compensations and jobs”. Thus, in Gevra mines in Korba district, Chhattisgarh, “The mining proponents have chosen to use specific policy options for compensation, that deliberately deprive people of jobs… Having lost access to land and livelihoods, occupational and financial support is an ongoing bone of contention.”
“Similarly”, the study says, “the people living around the two thermal power plants in Singrauli region at the border of the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were promised contractual jobs.” It was revealed, however, “that while there were 20,000 people in the village, only 234 were given jobs.” 
Also, there is an 11-year-old resistance to land use change in Jagatsinghpur district in Odisha, resulting from a MoU, prompting the state government to create a land bank for a South Korean company, POSCO.
The second reason is “continued resistance against land use change”, the study says, quoting Satyajit Chavan, president, Jan Hakka Seva Samiti, an umbrella organisation for groups fighting against the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, as saying that while they have “consistently” opposed the project for more than eight years, things have reached to a point where political intervention is necessary. 
The third reason is “air and water contamination and depletion”, the study says, giving the example of Mundra block of Kutch district of Gujarat, where “people affected in the region analysed the compliance of approval conditions of one large infrastructure project including several multi-utility ports, a railway line, and related facilities. They pointed to impacts of mangrove and sand dune destruction that had led to salinity increase, loss of fish catch and restriction on mobility in the area.”

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