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Land acquisition: Kashmir-type situation in Odisha to 'oblige' corporate house?

By Prashant Paikray* 

The Odisha government run by Navin Pattnaik is using police force in order to hand over the 2,900 acres of fertile agricultural land to the Indian steel major, Jindal Steel, led by industrialist Sajjan Jindal. After the POSCO India fiasco of 2015-2016, the JSW Utkal Steel Ltd came with its proposal to build 13.2 MTPA crude steel, 900MW captive power and 10 MTPA cement plants along with a 52 MTPA captive jetty at the same place.
All this happened without free prior informed consent of the people and the Gram Sabhas, and without following statutory legal procedures. The corporate forces have their clout over the Government of India as well the State government, so permissions for any project is not a problem for them.
Around 2 pm on December 20, 2021, the villagers of Dhinkia held a massive demonstration against the State and police repression at the Mahala village border. Suddenly the police came in seven Bolero vans, entered into Dhinkia village from the backside, and started thrashing and beating people.
The police came to arrest the leader of the Anti-Jindal & Anti-POSCO Movement, Odisha, Debendra Swain. They picked up his paternal uncle, Ayodhya Swain, aged 71, who is a paralysis patient, and his daughter Mili Swain, who is 22. The police slapped false charge against them under several Indian Penal Code sections: 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 294 (use of obscene language), 427 (mischief causing damage), and 506 (criminal intimidation).
They did not even spare the passersby who asked them the reason for dragging the father-daughter duo out of their house. The police assaulted women and children after entering the village in the name of searching some accused persons.
The villagers are facing hardships due to the police action. The situation has come to such a pass that the villagers are being asked to show their aadhaar card to go out and enter their village. The police have been raiding the village, breaking into houses, attacking villagers, causing injuries, implicating people in false cases, and restricting them to their houses.
Tension began on December 1, 2021, when the local administration officials went to Mahala village for forceful demarcation of the revenue village. The villagers vehemently protested against the illegal move. They have been opposing the bifurcation of the village for quite some time.
Meanwhile, the new Superintendent of Police (SP), Akhilesvar Singh, IPS, who is already in controversy for a custodial death in Puri district has taken the obligation to establish the proposed JSW project. He has converted the Dhinkia village into Kashmir-like situation, where everybody entering or exiting the village should explain the reason and show their identity proof. The police have cut off the supply of emergency goods to create pressure among the people who protest the proposed JSW project.
The villagers erected bamboo barricades on December 6, 2021 to restrict entry of security forces into the Dhinkia village, and intensified their resistance braving, incessant rains and severe cold. Women are guarding the gates along with males to prevent police and government officials, and any other outsiders’ entry, into the village.

No environmental clearance

The JSW Utkal Steel Ltd applied for Environment Clearance in 2018 to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India. As per the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, the public hearing/ public consultation was to be conducted in December 2019 at Gadakujanga of Erasama tahasil by the Jagatsinghpur district administration.
The Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) was supposed to organize the neutral event, where people from affected gram panchayats and nearby affected areas were to represent.
However, the public hearing was hijacked by the district administration led by the then collector Sangram Mohapatra, who was the Land Acquisition Officer of IDCO during POSCO project in 2005 and was reportedly involved in beating children and elderly people of Dhinkia during land acquisition.
There was deployment of more than 15-20 platoons of police personnel days before the public hearing to terrorize local people and create a tense situation. People were brought in hired buses by the ruling party labour leaders and the administration from other localities that are not affected by the project.
The entry of the local people was selective, regulated by the police, the administration, local goons as well as ruling party members to fill the place with people in support of the project. Thousands attended the public hearing, out of which more than 80% were from outside the project-affected area, even outside the district. Luxurious meal was arranged by the project proponents (JSW) for 5,000 people, spending more than Rs 80 lakh for arranging the public hearing, which was a violation of EIA 2006 Notification and raised the questions of its neutrality.
Local people were prevented from attending the public hearing. The villagers of Dhinkia, where the majority objected to the project, boycotted the event, because the venue was selected knowingly, far away from the proposed project site.
Fear of police and administration among the Dhinkia people was another reason for boycotting the public hearing, citing their previous sufferings during the anti-POSCO struggle. A simultaneous palli sabha (village meeting) was organized on the same day of the public hearing in Dhinkia where a resolution was passed unanimously against the proposed project of the JSW Utkal Steel Ltd by thousands of people.
Various representations were sent to the Expert Appraisal Committee, MoEFCC, against the illegal and unconstitutional public hearing by villagers and civic bodies. Official sources claimed that approximately 1,000 written representations signed by the affected villagers were sent in favour of the proposed project; however, almost 90% of them were false, forged and never signed by the villagers. All the written pleas – many of them signed by children below 13 years – were made in the same format.
The EC to the JSW couldn’t be granted since 2019 due to shortcomings and false information in the EIA and the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) report. Various shortcomings and misleading information have been identified and informed by various civic bodies, individuals, villagers to the EAC, MoEF&CC, who have also requested to cancel the EC.
The Gram Sabhas of the area have passed majority resolutions against any handover of their lands and community forest resources
As per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013, “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the original land owner.” But the Government of Odisha has gone in exactly the opposite direction.
As per the State government’s revised policy for land acquisition notified on February 7, 2015, “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the State and be deposited in the Land Bank automatically.”
With respect to the forestland, the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes and vests legal rights of local communities over forestland and community forest resources. The residents of Nuagaon, Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages submitted applications to the local authorities to claim their land and forest rights, but these claims have not been processed since 2011.
It is to be noted that three different official committees, i.e., the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the FAC, have found that the FRA has been violated in the proposed POSCO area. Besides, on several occasions in the past, the Gram Sabhas of the area have passed majority resolutions against any handover of their lands and community forest resources.
The government must respect the unanimous resolution passed by over 2,000 people at a gram sabha held in October 2012 that the land used for betel cultivation was under the rights provided to the Gram Sabha under the FRA.
The State government is obliged to fulfill the statutory legal requirement of ensuring recognition and vesting of forest rights and consent over these lands after the exit of POSCO, otherwise the government will be committing a criminal offence under the FRA, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act, 1989, and its amendments done in 2016. Thus, under FRA, transfer of people’s land to Jindal is illegal.
In July 2017, the villagers have filed a petition with the Kolkata bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which asserted that the Odisha government cannot put forestland into land bank. According to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980, the government is required to get forest clearance or approval from the Central environment ministry to use forestland for a non-forest purpose.
In fact, there is no provision to obtain forest clearance for a ‘land bank’ either in FCA or FRA. The government cannot change the use of forestland without recognizing the land and forest rights of people living or dependent on it for generations.
The State government through its Panchayati Raj department removed Debendra Swain, who is the Panchayat Samiti member (an elected representative) in an unlawful manner, just to give a visual to the public that anyone who raises voice against the government would have to undergo serious punishment.
The demands of the Anti-Jindal & Anti- POSCO Movement, Odisha, are follows:
  • The administration should take steps for immediate withdrawal of police force from Dhinkia and ensure that normalcy is restored soon.
  • The government should stop all types of repression and withdraw all false and fabricated cases against villagers.
  • The Government of Odisha must follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Singur issue in which the land of farmers bought for the Tata Nano plant was returned to them.
  • The process of fresh land acquisition and fencing etc. should be suspended immediately as there is no Environment Clearance for the proposed project of JSW.
  • Urgently process individual and community forest rights claims on the land the corporate giant is take over from the POSCO project site via the land bank.
  • The land must be returned to the original inhabitants as per LARR Act, 2013.
  • Ensure implementation of the judgment of NGT, Principal Bench, New Delhi, dated July 12, 2018 and remove any construction already made on the forest land.
  • The government needs to replant the trees in the sensitive coastal areas where more than two lakh trees were indiscriminately cut down by the Government for POSCO.
  • A committee consisting of sensitive jurists, human rights advocates, activists, ecologists and ecological economists should be formed to keep a watch on what the government is doing in the area just to promote corporate interests at a huge cost to the native people, taking away their permanent sources of livelihoods which in the ecologically sensitive coastal zone.
---
*Spokesperson, Anti-Jindal & Anti-POSCO Movement, Odisha

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