POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI
Odisha Government Repeats the Same Old Lies in “Assurance” to Environment Ministry
Today the Odisha government sent a “categorical” assurance to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, claiming that no one in the proposed POSCO project area is eligible under the Forest Rights Act. The Ministry’s request for a “categorical assurance” came after two Committees had already exposed that the Odisha government had lied on this matter.
The latest “assurance” repeats exactly the same lies that were told and exposed before – as if there had never been any enquiry committees. The Odisha government has also challenged the Ministry’s interpretation of the law as well as the Ministry’s own orders.
- The government continues to say that the area was “wasteland” and therefore the people are not forest dwellers. The Odisha government’s own revenue maps of 1928-1929 and the Survey of India in 1929 all clearly show the area marked as “dense jungle” and “miscellaneous jungle.” These were brought out by the POSCO Enquiry Committee. Does the Odisha government believe that its own maps are forgeries?
- The government claims that it “implemented” the Forest Rights Act by calling palli sabha meetings in March 2008; and, in just one meeting in each village, apparently the Act was explained, the forms and records supplied and the people trained. But, as per their own records, the required legal quorum was not met in a single one of those villages, again as exposed by the Enquiry Committee. One of the meeting “records” attached to the assurance – that concerning the village of Govindpur, where a large part of the forest land lies – shows a total of 34 people attending this meeting. Is this what the Odisha government has to show for implementation? A single meeting of 34 people, which is not a valid meeting under any law and certainly not under the Forest Rights Rules?
- Moreover, what has happened to the claims filed since by the people of the area? Who gave the Collector the unilateral power to decide who is eligible in this area? In what sense is this within the law?
- The Odisha government not only has contempt for the law – it also has contempt for the Environment Ministry. Despite being explicitly instructed in the January 31st order that people are not required to be cultivating for 75 years to be eligible, it says they do. It has tried to act as if the Ministry’s own orders and conditions do not exist, saying that FRA implementation and consent of the gram sabhas are not required – when, in addition to being required by law, the Ministry itself made these an explicit condition for this project. Finally, the government has not bothered to reply to a single one of the legal points made in any of the representations forwarded by the Ministry to it, except for disputing the validity of some resolutions.
Every single claim that the Odisha government makes in this assurance has been proven false by us, by political leaders, and by two official Enquiry Committees. There is not a single shred of new evidence in this “assurance”. Moreover, the proof that it is a bunch of lies is already with the Ministry.
The question now before the Environment Ministry is simple. Is it going to continue colluding with a State government that has demonstrated its utter contempt for law, truth and people’s rights? Is it going to grovel before a State government that challenges its interpretation of law and ignores its orders? Is it going to tell the nation that it will ignore lies when they stare it in the face?
Less than a week after claiming that it is going to battle corruption and remove scams, is the UPA government now going to yet again throw the law to the winds for the sake of vested interests and a private company? Is it going to show again that it is just a front for money and muscle power? Whatever the answer may be, the struggle of the people will go on.
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti