We condemn the clandestine and illegal manner in which the Odisha government is facilitating the transfer of land acquired from the local betel vine growers and fisherfolk in Jagatsinghpur district to Jindal Steel Works. The alienation of agriculturally fertile land from the peasantry for the purpose of industry snatches away from them their perennial source of income and livelihood. The gains made by the 12 –years-long people’s struggle against POSCO seem to be spurned by the government as it paves the way for another steel conglomerate. Even as people continue to be mired in criminal cases foisted on them for protecting their land, the same land has been claimed by the state government in a Land Bank to be given to another steel conglomerate. This time, the people are pitted against Jindal Steel Works Utkal Ltd.
POSCO finally had to quit the area in 2017. The 2,700 acres of land forcibly acquired by the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) government should have rightfully been handed over to the local people as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013, which mandates that land acquired but not utilized within five years of the possession should be returned to the people. Also, the 2015 Supreme Court judgment had ordered the West Bengal government to return the land acquired for its Tata Nano project to the people of Singur. However, the Odisha government has made a policy revision in 2015 that such land can be kept in a Land Bank by the state government. Keeping the land in its custody in a Land Bank to transfer to other corporations negates the long struggle of the people to protect the land. This is happening despite the National Green Tribunal having halted the construction of the boundary wall built by IDCO for JSW.
Today, the brazen manner in which the clearances for JSW are being done reveals how the administration and government are resorting to the most cowardly means to alienate the people from their land. In 2011, the gram panchayats of Gobindpur, Dhinkia and Nuagaon had given unanimous resolutions against the transfer of land to POSCO as mandated by the Forest Rights Act. It is a shame that these claims remain unprocessed till today. However, on August 16, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) transferred the forest clearance along with the land in the Land Bank to JSW making it most easy for the company not to go through the same process. The government is acting in the interest of the company as it only wants steel production to happen in the area.
The farce continues even where environment clearance is concerned. Since land acquisition by corporations necessitates some formalities on paper, the State Pollution Control Board announced in the newspapers on 19.10.2019 a Public Hearing for Environment Clearance at 2.30 pm on November 22, 2019. The notice states that JSW Utkal Ltd is proposing developing multi-cargo all-weather captive jetties for handling 52 MTPA capacity cargos at the mouth of the Jatadhari River in Erasma tehsil of Jagasingpur district. While making it seem to be an environment clearance for jetties, the government has proactively kept part of the information in the dark. According to the website of the Ministry, there is a public hearing scheduled at the same venue on the same day at 9.30 AM for environment clearance of a 13. 2 MTPS crude steel, 900 MW Captive Power Plant and 10 MTPA Cement Plant too. This information has neither been communicated to the members of the Gram Panchayat nor published in any newspaper that local people know. Like many other rigged public hearings the newspaper notice does not share complete information with the affected people.
Recent research by Climate Central in New Jersey has warned how the Odisha coast can get devoured by the rising sea level in less than thirty years. It is alarming that paying no heed to the increasing ecological risks that the coastal areas face, there continue to be fresh proposals of steel plants and cement plants to further destroy and erode an already fragile ecosystem. The people who have nurtured and cared for these lands are being kept in the dark and public hearings are being hurriedly pushed through. In attempting to alienate the peasantry, land tillers and fisher people from their much coveted land, the government is doing grave injustice. It seems all set to destroy the coasts and the people who live there.
We are concerned that the hundreds of criminal cases in court and the even greater number of “Others” mentioned in FIRs are already being revived against local people.
We demand the Odisha government to:
- Urgently process individual and community forest rights claims on land that have been filed since 2011.
- Return the land to the original inhabitants as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013.
- Withdraw all criminal cases against the people of the area.
- Stop destroying the eco-system and the natural habitat of Odisha.
We, the following organizations and concerned individuals, stand in solidarity with villagers of these panchayats once again as they rise up for the land they cherish, protect and depend upon for their future generations. Let us protect the land and its people from corporate greed and destruction!
- Mahindra Parida, AICCTU, AIPF, Bhubaneswar
- Suresh Panigrahy, State Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, Odisha Committe
- Sivaram, State Secretary, CPI-ML, Red Star
- Srikant Mohanty, Secretary, Chaasi Mulya Sangha, Odisha
- Bhalachandra Sadangi, Spokesperson, CPI(ML) New Democracy, Odisha
- Srimant Mohanty, Political Activist, Bhubaneswar
- Sabyasachi, State Secretary, TUCI
- Advocate Biswapriya Kanungo, Bhubaneswar
- Advocate Sankar Pani, Bhubaneswar
- Sujata Sahni, Research Scholar, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack
- Pramodini Pradhan, PUCL, Bhubaneswar
- Prashant Paikrai, Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, Bhubaneswar
- Subrata Beura, CHSB, Bhubaneswar
- Golak Bihari Nath, Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan (GASS), Odisha
- Sudhir Pattnaik, Social Activist, Bhubaneswar
- Satyabadi Nayak, Social Activist (Ambedkarite), Bhawanipatna
- Abhiram Mallick, State Coordinator, Mulnivasi Samata Parishad, Odisha
- Surya Dash, Activist and Film Maker, Bhubaneswar
- Laba Suna, President, Jai Bhim Club, Lathor, Bolangir
- Tuna Malik, State Coordinator, Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha (ABM)
- Sankar Sahu, State Secretary, Krantikari Krusak Sabha (AIKKS), Odisha
- Narendra Mohanty, Campaign against False and Fabricated Cases
- Sharanya Nayak, WSS, Koraput
- Sandeep Pattnaik, Researcher, Bhubaneswar
- Saroj Mohanty, ANWESHA, Sambalpur
- Advocate Bibek Ranjan, Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Koraput
- Pramila, General Secretary, Basti Surakshya Manch, Bhubaneswar
- Batakrushna Swain, Convenor, Upakuliya Jami O Jangal Surakshya Samiti, Odisha
- Lenin Kumar, Poet and Activist, Bhubaneswar
- Ranjana Padhi, Activist and Writer, Bhubaneswar