New Delhi: As women in three Orissan panchayats guard barricades to protect their villages, anti-poverty agency ActionAid is calling on central government to prevent the state from violating environmental guidelines and denying local people a voice in a hearing on projects proposed by Korean steel giant Posco which are set to displace seven villages.
The Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa signed an MoU in June 2005 with Posco to set up an export-oriented 12 mn tonne a year steel plant and marine port at Jatadhar river mouth near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district. A public hearing on the case, a legal requirement, is set for 15 April.
ActionAid, which has been working with fishing communities, dalits and other marginalized groups in the area since 1999, wrote to the central ministry of environment and forests, requesting that the public hearing be postponed and local people given mandatory one month to go through documents prior to the meeting.
“There are grave concerns over the Posco public hearing. Not just over failure to disseminate necessary information to those affected, but also on the choice of venue which is too far from the affected villages and will prevent many local people taking part,” says Madhumita Ray, programme manager with ActionAid’s Bhubaneshwar office.
The latest Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification by government of India dated 14 September 2006, lays down in detail procedures which the State Pollution Control Board should follow in arranging a public hearing. State authorities are liable to share the draft EIA report with affected communities in advance of the public hearing but it has not yet reached the three panchayats concerned.
The EIA guidelines also state that the public hearing should be arranged “for ensuring widest public participation at the project site or in its close proximity”. With plans to hold the hearing 25 km away in Kujang, guidelines are clearly being flouted.
Killings over land disputes in Orissa’s Kalingar Nagar in January 2006 and Nandigram in the neighbouring state of West Bengal last month are still fresh in people’s minds. NGOs and local groups are concerned that if the Posco project goes ahead, a vibrant agrarian and fishing economy where people grow two paddy crops a year and women often earn an income from bamboo cane and livestock rearing will be destroyed.
The Posco project would bring a total of Rs5,20,000 mn, the highest ever FDI in the country. It requires 4,004 acres of land to be acquired at the project site. MoU between the Government of Orissa and Posco allows the latter to exploit the best of coal and iron ore mines of the State for a period of 30 years and to construct their own railways, roadways and an 86 km long pipe-line for carrying fresh water from Mahanadi barrage at Cuttack to salinity-prone project site at Jatadhar mouth.
Project plans involve displacement of seven villages from three panchayats. Protests by local people have been going on for the last 14 months. Villagers have erected guarded barricades to prevent state authorities or company personnel from entering the villages.