#India-Union Tribal Affairs & Panchayati Raj minister, May your tribe increase #tribalrights


From a soft-spoken, easygoing politician, KCS Deo has emerged as a combative, ‘activist’ minister for tribal affairs.
Bhavdeep Kang

January 17, 2013, Issue 4 Volume 10

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

VYRICHERLA KISHORE Chandra Suryanarayana Deo — Kishore to his friends — has upset many during his tenure as Union Tribal Affairs & Panchayati Raj minister. For those who dismissed the soft-spoken, easygoing political middleweight as a “sweet nothing”, the “activist” minister’s relentless crusade for tribal rights and trenchant (albeit politely worded) criticism of party and Cabinet colleagues comes as a surprise.

On tribal rights, Kishore has taken on his own government, countering repeated attempts to dilute the Forest Rights Act (FRA) with a volley of letters to Cabinet colleagues, chief ministers and governors. His role has been crucial at a time when various government agencies have been seeking to set aside the provisions of the Act, which demand consent of the tribal dwellers before diverting forestland for infrastructure or industry.

Given his seniority — he is 65 and a sixterm MP — he might have expected highprofile portfolios. Panchayati Raj is regarded as second string and Tribal Affairs is a relatively new ministry; earlier clubbed with Home, then Welfare, then Social Justice, it was given independent status in 1999. Kishore is the fourth minister to hold the portfolio and the first to give it teeth.

Kishore implicitly believes mining in tribal areas is the biggest challenge faced by forest dwellers and the root cause of Naxal insurgency. “All of us are talking about left-wing extremism. The PM has described it as a threat to national security. People must wake up and realise that this is due to the neglect and extreme exploitation of forest dwellers,” he says.

Forest Activism
7 April 2012
Writes to AP governor on ‘illegal’ mining leases
24 May
Writes to CMs on FRA, also to governors on special powers
28 June
Writes to Naveen Patnaik on Kalahandi
August
Amends rules to give FRA teeth
29 September
Cancels AP mining leases, writes to AP CM
Octobe
States objection to NIB overruling FRA/PESA
19 November & 7 December
Writes to Jayanthi Natarajan on FRA
January 2013
Sets up board to fix fair price for forest produce

Kishore is not opposed to mining, per se, but firmly believes that forest dwellers ought to have a share in the proceeds of mining, a decisive say in the pace and manner of mining and a right to forest produce. What he does not say on record (but conveys in his letters to the Minister of Environment and Forests) is that the Forest Department is the biggest hurdle in securing justice for tribals.

He fired his first salvo on behalf of forest dwellers last April, in a letter to Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan, demanding that leases granted to the AP Mining Development Corporation (APMDC) in violation of the FRA be cancelled. When he did not receive a response, he shot off a letter to CM Kiran Kumar Reddy cancelling the leases in exercise of his constitutional powers as Tribal Affairs minister — a first.

In his letter to Narasimhan, he points out that Vishakapatnam district, where APMDC has been granted mining leases, has become a hotbed of Maoist activity. The killings by extremists, he adds, have to do with the bauxite mining lobbies.

Kishore did his homework before taking on the AP government. First, he secured the Attorney General’s opinion on whether the governor had the power to cancel the leases granted by the state government. The AG concluded he did. Despite the legal go-ahead, Narasimhan chose not to take on the government. Kishore waited five months, then sent off a letter cancelling the leases: “By virtue of the powers vested in GoI vide Clause 3 of Vth Schedule of the Constitution… hereby directs the AP government to cancel the mining leases to APMDC immediately and report compliance.”

At the time of writing, compliance has yet to be received. The PM may well have to arbitrate between the minister and the CM and the results of that exercise would have immense significance. The PM is said to have reservations about Kishore’s leftof- centre leanings.

Meanwhile, Kishore busied himself with drawing Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s attention to the fact that her ministry made it a “practice of ignoring the FRA when diverting forestland for large projects”. He wrote: “I’m anguished to find that even five years after its enactment, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) continues to ignore this law’s existence.” The prior, informed consent of the gram sabhas is a mandatory requirement for diversion of forestland under the FRA and this provision is being blatantly flouted by governments.

He referred in particular to the clearance given by the MOEF to the Lara Thermal Power Project in Raigarh of Chhattisgarh, even while acknowledging that the mandatory gram sabha certificates had not been obtained! “Why is it (FAC) misleading the public into believing that these projects are in compliance with the law when they often are not?” he asks.

In a follow-up letter to Natarajan last month, he referred to the Niyamgiri case: “Proceedings are pending in the SC in regard to the proposed mine by Vedanta in Niyamgiri where people are seeking to argue that they can bypass, ignore or undermine the FRA in the name of advancing a project.” It behoves the government to take a clear stand that upholds the law and the rights of the people, he maintains.

Kishore has been urging state governments to take the FRA seriously. In a letter to all the CMs, he pointed out that community rights to pastures, water bodies and minor forest produce were not being given recognition; that tribals who sought to claim land rights were being given a fraction of the area to which they were entitled and claims were being rejected without assigning a reason. “As a result, forest dwellers are facing eviction or harassment by the authorities,” he wrote.

No issue is too small for Kishore to take up. Earlier in 2012, he wrote to Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik on Jamguda, a small tribal village in Kalahandi. The gram sabha had decided to harvest flowering bamboo, which (having flowered) would otherwise be destroyed. They proposed to sell it at 30 a pole and so earn about 1 lakh but the forest authorities refused to allow them to transport the bamboo. This random abuse of power, he said, “goes against our professed adherence to rule of law”.

Far more than his activism on tribal rights, his alleged description of AP Pradesh Congress Committee chief Botsa Satyanarayana as a “land, liquor and mining don”, in a letter to Sonia Gandhi, made a big stir. Kishore denied having written a letter. Correct, but only technically, sources say. It was an 11-page report, not a letter. And it severely criticised the functioning of the state government in general and the CM (and Botsa) in particular.

Kishore’s view on Kiran Reddy and Botsa are well-known, so the leak did not come as a surprise. It did, however, leave many wondering how this blunt, outspoken man had managed to fly below the radar for most of his four-decade-long political career. Given his distaste for lobbying, it was perhaps not surprising that he made it to the Cabinet only in 2011.

Last June, he took on the then home minister P Chidambaram over the massacre of 17 civilians in Chhattisgarh, saying his acceptance of the state government’s version that they were Maoists was “illinformed”. “By killing 17 innocent tribals, you are creating 1,700 Maoists,” he warned.

He was to take on Chidambaram as finance minister as well, when he opposed the National Investment Board’s reported attempt to bypass the FRA. While he didn’t do so directly, he said he would insist on the implementation of the FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. The UPA stood for inclusive growth and so, no development project could be more important than the livelihood of millions. If the two laws that offer protection to tribals were an obstacle to development, then the Tribal Affairs ministry could well be wound up.

One of his first initiatives after taking over was to amend the FRA rules, because some of them, he says “were against the spirit of the Act”. Manoeuvring the amendments through the bureaucracy took him a year. Currently, his big project is setting a minimum procurement price for minor or non-timber forest produce, so that tribals don’t get shortchanged on their bamboo, herbs, etc.

Like his Cabinet colleague from AP, S Jaipal Reddy, he enjoys a reputation for probity. Both come from privileged backgrounds; Kishore is from the royal family of Kurupam. Apart from that, they are at polar ends of state politics, coming from different regions. Neither has ever openly expressed an opinion, but it is widely accepted that while Reddy, who hails from Telangana, sees little alternative to bifurcation of AP, Kishore is opposed to it.

Nor does he have a soft corner for Jaganmohan Reddy. In fact, in his letter to the governor, he even took on the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, duly deified by the state Congress (even as the Centre claps his son in jail), for having betrayed “our commitment to the cause of the STs” in granting the mining leases, which was “a flagrant violation of our Constitution”. When it comes to tribal rights, Kishore doesn’t believe in holding back.

letters@tehelka.com

 

Background of Alternative Politics in Orissa/Odisha


 

~ Prafulla Samantra & Rabi Das, Nov 2012

 

In the first decade in Independent India idealism, service and sacrifice had its impact on politics, which resulted in the process of nation building and strengthening the democratic institutions. The process gradually weakened and corruption affected state policy and administration; the mass discontent created by this was reflected in the anti-Congress campaign in 1969. The leadership was conscious that the country should not deviate from the fundamental principles of the freedom struggle. That is why in the decades of the ‘70s when authoritarianism and corruption raised its head, a mass movement developed against it. The people of the country confronted emergency and expressed a clear-cut opinion in 1977 to re-establish democracy. However, corruption engulfed the entire administrative system and the state and central leaders were neck deep in corruption, which resulted in a serious economic crisis in the country. Taking advantage of this situation, without the knowledge of the people, the economic policies of neoliberalism and globalization were imposed on them.

 

Under this economic regime, the impact of foreign and Indian capital, including the Indian and foreign companies, increased on politics and economy to the country. The foundation of this economy is dictatorial and the repressive administrative system, which is reflected in every aspect of the country. This is completely against the fundamental principles of the freedom struggle and democracy.

 

In this, the social, economic and political rights of the people are shrinking and the importance of capital and capitalists has increased. Most of the leaders and parties ruling the country and states work as their agents and have unleashed repression on the common people. Their only aim is handing over the precious natural and common resources to the companies and providing them lakhs of crores of profit and buying the public opinion by the help of their financial power. Due to their policies, poverty is increasing, farmers are committing suicide, colossal economic disparities are created and the natural environment of the country is being destroyed. In this condition, there is a need for creating an alternative politics and organization for re-establishing the values of the freedom struggle and defending the fundamental freedom and rights of the citizens. The leadership who have ruled and ruling our state Odisha for the past fifty years are not free of corruption. There is a gradual degeneration of the state administration due to the corruption of the leadership who have been ruling our state Odisha; the politics is also polluted. Today’s politics is governed by black money. As a result of this, more than 50% of the people are below the poverty line. 70% or 3 crore people of our state are Adivasis, Dalits, agricultural labourers, marginal and landless farmers, who are unable to get the necessary nutritional diet, education and health service. Politics has been gradually reduced to a business by the ruling parties. Democracy has completely vanished from the political parties. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been ruling Odisha for the past 12 years, who’s head Naveen Patnaik is unable to talk to the common voting public and people also do not understand what he says. Though the Chief Minister is getting votes, he is not able to recognize his own MLAs. It is said that Naveen is quite clean and above board, then how come in his rule thousands of crore rupees of corruption is happening in daal, water and mines.

 

The quantum and rate of corruption in police stations, Tehsil block offices and other departments have increased instead of decreasing. The property of ruling party MLAs, engineers, senior officers and ministers continues to increase. If the Chief Minister is free of corruption, then from where is the ruling party getting thousands of crores of rupees to spend on elections. Therefore, it proves that the corruption of the past 12 years rule is far more than the past 40 years. As a result of this, the politics of ruling BJD revolves around Naveen Pathak. The MLAs are neither free to speak in the legislation assembly nor to the Chief Minister about the problems of the people. Departmental secretaries have been given the scope to work sidelining the ministers, as a result of which there is whimsical governance in the administration and party by the boss. This type of anti-people and undemocratic politics is propagated as pro-development by the mass media who are financially controlled by the companies such that it becomes easy to plunder the natural resources of Odisha by the companies. Now this boss has been projected as a supremo by the mass media.

 

Now politics is only done for the profit of the companies. Common people have no place in this. The role of the main opposition political parties is the same. There has been severe allegation of corruption against the Centre, which is ruled by the Congress Party. This party blindly follows what is said by the high command. BJP has also adopted the economic policies of Congress, which devastates agriculture and farmers for the benefit of the companies. The BJP shared power with BJD for 9 years in Odisha; most of them are corrupted. The Congress at the Centre; BJD in Odisha; and BJP in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh; are equally responsible for the coal scam today. When agricultural land, river water, forest resources and mines are snatched from the people and handed over to the companies at cheap rates in our state, then the displaced farmers and Adivasis face police lathis and bullets when they democratically protest against these measures. But these main opposition parties are not ready to say a single sentence against these companies. Therefore, while the plunder of mines, water and land is portrayed as development by the Naveen Government in the name of industrialization, the two main opposition parties are unable to oppose the ongoing blind destructive industrialization. Contemporary politics is being corporatized and criminalized. This will drain the natural resources of the state. Mountains and rivers will be reduced to deserts; heat will increase with deficit in rainfall; agriculture will be devastated; farmers and Adivasis will lose their livelihoods, and the state will be become a food deficit state. Therefore, for the preservation of environment and along with alternative development, there is a dire need of a new political power. By a sustainable and balanced development, agro industries, construction of village industries, and small oil, sugar and spinning mills can be prioritized where it is possible to employ unemployed youth. The aim of this politics is to draw a prosperity line and provide the broad masses of people economic, educational and health services equally.

 

In the mainstream political parties in Odisha, farmers, Adivasi and Dalit leadership is totally absent. Though Adivasis and Dalits constitute 40% of the state’s population, in the political parties there has been no reflection of their voices in the leadership for the past 60 years. Instead of doing justice to agriculture and farmers, there is a conspiracy to finish off agriculture through senseless industrialization. By name, it is development, but in reality, it is the destruction of water, forests, agriculture and the livelihood security of crores of people who are dependent on them. In these parties, there is no place for the politics based on the socio-economic context of Adivasis, Dalits and farmers. In the entire state when the mass movements are going on for the preservation and security of agricultural land along with agriculture and forest resources, the ruling and main opposition parties are refusing to address the issues raised by them. It is because they get black money from companies for their politics. Where is the ruler of the state? He is there to provide security for the companies and for the repression of mass movements by engaging the police force. Today, in every nook and corner burglary, dacoity, murder and rape by antisocial goons are increasing day by day. Why is it not prevented? To save democracy today, it is necessary to unseat the parties and their leaders by 2014 that have pushed the people of the state towards anarchy by making the administration anti-people, undemocratic and corrupt; otherwise, life will be intolerable by the arrogance of this party.

 

After seeing all these, since the voters do not have any alternative during the elections, it is easy to garner votes using money and muscle power. Therefore, the biggest necessity of today is the politics, which can provide security for agriculture, farmers, fishermen, unorganized labour, Adivasis and Dalits, and create leadership by them. Hence, it is really necessary to create mass awareness for democratic politics in every village. The farmers of the villages have to question the political parties who come for their votes, from where they amass so much wealth? Today, when the condition of agriculture and farmers is precarious, then how MLAs, MPs, Chief Ministers and officials are becoming rich? Why can’t we be provided the pension drawn by a Class IV employee? Why education has been commercialized instead of making provision of common schools and teachers from villages to cities? Why are children discriminated? While asking these questions, politics has to be freed from black money by creating a new political force, which can provide education, health services and livelihood for everyone in Odisha. There is a need for a new political force and party where there will be no high command or a supremo in the party. There will be equal rights for every ordinary worker where there will be a collective leadership of Adivasis, Dalits and farmers to manage the affairs of the party. Gram Sabhas have to liberated from the high-handedness of the political parties.

 

Financial and organizational assistance will be sought by honest political workers on behalf of the people. To prevent astronomical expenditure in elections, people’s committees have to be constituted in every village. This type of political alternative will be able to implement alternative development policy for the farmers, agricultural labourers, forest workers and slum dwellers of Odisha. Otherwise, a leader like Naveen Patnaik who cannot speak the language of people, who does not have any emotional bond with the people, who runs the state like an emperor by the help of officials will ruin the state by opportunism, companification, commercialization and will pauperize the state by draining its resources and convert the state into a grazing meadow for the companies by corrupt administration and degenerate politics which will cripple our education and heath institutions, destroy our agriculture, land, rivers, oceans and forests. To prevent this, there is a dire need of an alternative political force, which can create an alternative political platform creating a united campaign, for the rights of people along with likeminded mass organizations. The main objective for a mass campaign for alternative politics is creating awareness among people regarding alternatives and developing people’s political organization in every Gram Panchayat. There is a need for a long struggle for the reflection of people’s power in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.

 

[Translated into English by Asit Das]

 

#India-SC to seal fate of Vedanta Group’s Lanjigarh refinery on December 3


must warn readers that the scribe has given half the facts. no mention of notices from state pollution control board, complaints to nhrc, nc saxena, etc. rather makes the case for val . the times of india of course.

By , TNN | Nov 27, 2012, 04.49 AM IST

BHUBANESWAR: The Supreme Court on Monday fixed December 3 as the final date of hearing in the Niyamgiri bauxite mining case. The verdict will seal the fate of Vedanta Group’s Lanjigarh refinery in Kalahandi district.

The Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) went to the Supreme Court in March 2011 after the Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) rejected stage-2 forest diversion proposal for the Niyamgiri bauxite mine, having an estimated deposit of 78 million tons, from where the state government had promised raw materials to Vedanta’s refinery.

The Vedanta group is the only private industrial house having done tangible investments in the state during the present Naveen Patnaikregime.

The one mtpa capacity refinery, however, has been embroiled in a series of controversies ranging from environmental activists protesting that it would jeopardise the fragile ecosystem of the region to political parties, particularly the Congress, clamouring that mining on Niyamgiri hill would spell doom for the endangered Dongria Kondh tribes.

OMC had got the lease in 2004. But mining became impossible in the area in the face of PILs that raised questions on the future of biodiversity, water bodies and Dongria Kondhs.

The court battle went on for several years, during which at least three major agencies like the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, Central Mines Planning and Design Institute, Ranchi, and the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) examined the charges made by the petitioners.

The Supreme Court cleared the project in August 2008 followed by the MoEF issuing environment clearance and Stage-1 green signal for diversion of about 660 hectares of forest proposed by the state government for the mining project. The MoEF while issuing the stage-1 clearance had put 21 conditions which included deposit of Rs 125 crore for development of wildlife and the tribals.

But the refinery’s problem though was far from over. This time it was the Central government that put blocks on the project. As the time came for the MoEF to issue the stage-2 forest clearance, it started dithering.

MoEF soon appointed an expert committee to study the fulfillment of conditions it had imposed earlier. The state government on its part placed its view before the MoEF that the conditions had been fulfilled, but things still were not going the refinery’s way.

As the MoEF constituted more expert groups to examine the charges against the project, it withdrew the stage-1 forest clearance as well. By August-end the signal was loud and clear that the project was heading to face a raw deal in the hands of the MoEF. And it happened.

MoEF rejected the stage-2 forest diversion proposal for the mining project sent by the state government. As the Centre refused to budge from its stand despite repeated persuasions by the state government, the OMC went to the apex court challenging the MoEF order.

Amid this the net loser has since been the refinery, which has in the meanwhile completed nearly 70% works, though allegedly illegally, for increasing the refinery’s capacity from one mtpa to 6 mtpa.

“We put up the plant believing the state government. Little did we know that the investment would take us running from pillar to post. We have no raw material in hand. We have already lost over Rs 2500 crore,” said a senior Vedanta official.

 


Debabrata Mohanty : Sat Nov 17 2012,
Semi Column

From being a soporific department under which miners had a free run in the state’s ore-rich hinterland, the Orissa Steel and Mines Department has suddenly changed tack and is showing a fresh burst of energy. The biggest example of this was the Rs 76,000-odd crore penalty levied recently on companies for extracting ore in excess of set limits and violating environmental laws over the past 10 years. Last month, the department also ordered that those waiting for their mining lease to be renewed should restrict production to their captive requirement, and that areas which had not been leased out would be given to state-run Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC). To give an idea of the staggering penalty, consider that it would wipe off Orissa’s Rs 40,000 crore debt, allow the state to have a tax-free budget for the next few years and still leave enough to run several populist schemes. What the Naveen Patnaik government also hopes is that the figure would blind everyone to how the mining mess came to this in the first place. It may not just be a coincidence that the penalty was imposed just days before the M B Shah Commission landed in Orissa for the mining probe. Activists seeking a CBI inquiry say the government has deliberately left loopholes in the penalty order to let the violators go scotfree. For example, they point out, it hasn’t cancelled the lease of miners who violated their lease conditions, which it could have done, and instead levied fines, which it may not have the authority to do under environment laws. Besides, the government is silent on the role played by officials of the Orissa Pollution Control Board, the deputy directors of mines, Indian Bureau of Mines and Forest and Environment Department in the excess mining. The decision to let Orissa Mining Corporation become the default miner may not be a good idea either as the corporation is barely able to run three of its 35 mines, and is itself accused of illegal mining worth over Rs 2,000 crore. Over the past three years, mining has become a major source of revenue for the state, earning it Rs 4,517 crore last year alone. It’s time Orissa treated this asset as an asset.   Debabrata is a special correspondent based in Bhubaneswar debabrata.mohanty@expressindia.com

 

Odisha CM assures steps to prevent closure of #Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery #goodnews


 

Shishir Sinha, The Hindu

New Delhi, Sept. 29:

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has promised to initiate efforts to avert the closure of the Lanjigarh plant of Vedanta Aluminium. The company has said it would shut down the plant from December 5 citing the lack of assured supplies of bauxite.

 

This promise was given to a 30-member delegation comprising representatives of the employees and the local community when they met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on Saturday. They appealed to him to save the Vedanta alumina refinery at Lanjigarh.

The delegation submitted a memorandum and appealed for regular supplies of bauxite from Odisha to the alumina refinery at Lanjigarh so that the company doesn’t close it down.

 

The Chief Minister told the delegation, “I will follow it up and take the matter forward in consultation with the Chief Secretary. All necessary steps will be taken.”

A day earlier, the delegation had submitted a memorandum to the Chief Secretary, the Minister of Mines, and the Minister of Labour and Employment. The Chief Secretary assured them that he would take steps to sort out the issue in the interest of the people.

 

The local community said the company had already sent a temporary closure notice to the Odisha Government due to a lack of raw material (bauxite) and at this juncture, if a regular supply of bauxite was not be maintained, thousands of people would be impacted. “In spite of having large quantities of bauxite in the State, if Vedanta Alumina Refinery closes down, Kalahandi will again become poverty-affected,” the memorandum said.

 

“I am from Lanjigarh of Kalahandi and I know that if the company closes down, it would affect the lives of more than 20,000 people. We want the Government to take immediate measures for the supply of bauxite to the company so that we and our region prospers,” Srikant Bohidar of Lanjigarh said.

 

Earlier this month, the company served a formal notice to the Odisha Government through the Labour Commissioner. The company had said, “The unit has already incurred financial losses to the tune of more than Rs 2,500 crore. Further operation of the refinery is not feasible unless supply of Odisha bauxite to the refinery is assured.”

 

The company’s refinery, located in the backward district of Kalahandi, has a capacity of 1 million tonnes. It has invested over Rs 8,000 crore, out of total investments of Rs 50,000 crore in Odisha. The refinery feeds alumina to its smelters located in Jharsuguda and Korba

 

Shishir.Sinha@thehindu.co.in

 

Maoists sought release mostly of tribal activists


BHUBANESWAR, April 13, 2012

Prafulla Das

It may sound strange, but it is true. Of the 27 persons whose release the Naveen Patnaik government assured Maoists for securing freedom for the abducted Italian Bosusco Paolo (since freed) and Biju Janata Dal legislator Jhina Hikaka, 24 are tribals and they reportedly have nothing to do with Naxals operating in their region in Orissa.

Of the remaining three, only two are Maoists, according to Dandapani Mohanty, convener of the Jan Adhikar Manch, who acted as interlocutor for talks with the government. The two Maoists are Murla Neelam Reddy and Setu Pangi, both hailing from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The other person, Subhashree Das, is the wife of Sabyasachi Panda, secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee of the Communist Party of India(Maoist), which had kidnapped Mr. Paolo from Kandhamal district on March 14.

26 persons yet to be released

Ms. Das was released from jail after a fast track court at Gunupur in Koraput district acquitted her on Tuesday. The remaining 26 persons were not released till Thursday.

Land rights activists

Mr. Mohanty told The Hindu that the 24 tribals, whose release was demanded by the two different groups of Maoists who had kidnapped Mr. Paolo and Mr. Hikaka, were activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a local outfit fighting for land rights for tribals for nearly two decades.

He said the cases against these activists pertained to an attack on the Narayanpatna police station in Koraput district, taking over possession of their land that had been in the custody of non-tribal families for long, and a quarrel between the two CMAS factions. Eighty-nine other CMAS activists, who faced similar cases, were already acquitted by different courts, Mr. Mohanty claimed. But many were still facing trial.

Common demand

As for the fresh demand by the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of the CPI(Maoist) — which had abducted Mr. Hikaka from Koraput district on March 24 — for release of five more persons, Mr. Mohanty said only one of them, Ghasi, was a Maoist. The other four were social activist and CMAS advisor Gananath Patra and three activists of the tribal outfit that was fighting for land rights for tribal people as well as opposing liquor trade in their region.

Interestingly, both groups of Maoists had demanded the release of Mr. Patra, who was acquitted by a court in Koraput district during the day in a case of atrocities on Scheduled Caste people, for want of evidence. In the recent past, he was acquitted in an abduction case. But two more cases are still pending against him.

POSCO’s steel dreams laid to rust


 With the National Green Tribunal scrapping environment clearance, Posco’s seven-year-wait is extended further, reports Bibhuti Pati in TEHELKA 

ON 30 March 2012, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) delivered a judgment that has sent India’s largest FDI back to the drawing table. In the landmark order, the NGT suspended the conditional environment clearance granted last year, and directed the environment ministry to carry out a ‘fresh review’ of the POSCO project. The project, a 12 million tonne iron and steel plant, has been one of India’s most hotly debated industrial projects. More than seven years since it was first proposed, the project has been symptomatic of India’s development riddle itself. While POSCO supporters see the project as a boost for India’s investment credentials, adversaries point to major irregularities and violations of law, human displacement, and the potential of largescale environment disaster.

In a vindication of protests against POSCO, the NGT in its order has noted that the full impact of the project is yet to be measured, since environmental impact assessments were made only for a 4 million tonne plant, not the full 12MT which POSCO plans to expand to. This is what TEHELKA had earlier reported, detailing the loopholes in the ministry’s clearance. While the environment clearance was given for a 4 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) steel plant, resources — land, water and iron ore — were allocated for a 12 MTPA project. (See ;Whose steel? Who’s stealing? TEHELKA 11 December 2010).

Significantly, this judgment comes just days after PM Manmohan Singh assured South Korea that efforts were under way for an early implementation of the POSCO project in Odisha. Singh told South Korean business leaders in Seoul that the government was “keen to move forward with the project,” while adding, “India is a stable and profitable long-term investment opportunity.”

The NGT bench consisted of members Justice CV Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Agarwal. The tribunal observed: “A close scrutiny of the entire scheme reveals that a project of this magnitude, particularly in partnership with a foreign country, has been dealt with casually, without there being any comprehensive scientific data regarding the possible environmental impacts. No meticulous scientific study was made on each and every aspect of the matter, leaving lingering and threatening environmental and ecological doubts unanswered.”

Just 48 hours before the tribunal ruling on POSCO, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out serious irregularities in the allocation of land to private promoters, misuse of emergency provisions for land acquisition and under-valuation of compensation for private land owners by the Odisha government. “The government misused the emergency provision under Section 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act in several cases, depriving the land losers of the opportunity to be heard,” said the CAG report, tabled in the Odisha Assembly. The audit report pointed out that the state government acquired nearly 438 acre by paying a compensation of Rs 11.85 crore while the present market value of the land is more than Rs 65 crore.

The Odisha government had signed an MOU with POSCO for the steel plant to be set up near Paradip port, in Jagatsinghpur district in 2005. It has been embroiled in controversy since.

In August 2010, POSCO’s forest clearance was suspended following complaints of violations of law.

An enquiry committee constituted under Meena Gupta, a former MoEF secretary, was formed to review the project. In October 2010, three members of the enquiry committee submitted a landmark report saying environmental and forest clearances were illegal, while Meena Gupta dissented to say that the project can be cleared with additional conditions. On 31 January 2011, the MoEF with Jairam Ramesh as environment minister upheld all clearances to POSCO, while prescribing some additional conditions, mostly consisting of studies to be done in future. In June 2011, Prafulla Santra, an activist and convener of National Alliance of People’s Movement, challenged the final order in the NGT. This tribunal was created by the environment ministry two years ago to provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. POSCO has the option of appealing against this ruling in the Supreme Court.

In its ruling, the NGT questioned the appointment of Meena Gupta as the chairperson of the review committee, which was set up by the MoEF, stating that the ministry had ignored the views of the other three members and accepted Gupta’s arguments. “Whether Meena Gupta’s actions are fair or not, they are definitely hit by her personal, official, departmental bias. This is in gross violation of principles of natural justice,” the tribunal stated.
CAG pointed out irregularities in the allocation of land to private promoters by the ruling BJD

Describing this order as a ‘conspiracy’ against the state, ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLAs have now asked the state government to clear doubts over the fate of this Rs 52,000-crore mega project. The issue was raised in the Odisha assembly during zero hour, when members of the treasury bench along with those of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) expressed concern over the NGT order.

Meanwhile, POSCO has said that it is a law-abiding firm and would comply with all the directives in this regard. “The National Green Tribunal has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to review afresh the clearance and we will ensure that we follow all directions given to us,” said a company official.

Welcoming the verdict, anti-POSCO activists strongly criticised Jairam Ramesh and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for selling the livelihoods of 4,000 people and the laws of the land to the highest bidder. For the last seven years, activists of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) have refused to allow any construction work to begin. Villagers in Dhinkia, the panchayat most severely affected by the project, have been demanding scrapping or relocation of the project. They claim it will deprive them of their major source of income from the betel vines spread across nearly 3,000 acres of forest land.

“IT IS painful for a citizen of an independent and democratic nation to realise that his/her elected representatives are willing to serve an unscrupulous and erring corporation even if the people who have elected them suffer in terms of life and livelihood,” said petitioner Prafulla Samantra. “In light of the verdict, I demand scrapping of the project and booking the firm for all violations. Book the culpable officers for criminal conspiracy against the people and the land.”

“It is heartening to realise that the rule of law has been upheld by the National Green Tribunal,” added senior environmentalist Biswajeet Mohanty. “As a democracy, we cannot bend laws and overlook violations just for the sake of accommodating the largest FDI in India. The entire POSCO project is shrouded with illegalities. Land acquisition, environmental clearances, forest clearances and port clearances have been done in blatant violation of the laws of the country. The objections by the MoEF’s own officers and expert committees were over-ruled by the MoEF. This ruling establishes that both the (Odisha) state and the centre violated environmental laws to favour this project proposal.”

Pipili rape: Odisha minister resigns on moral grounds


Odisha’s agriculture minister Pradip Maharathy on Thursday resigned on “moral grounds” as he was under attack for allegedly shielding the accused in the Pipili rape case, to safeguard the image of the ruling BJD and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik image ahead of panchayat polls.

“Mr Maharathy has submitted his letter of resignation. He has resigned on moral ground. I have forwarded it to the Governor for acceptance,” Mr. Patnaik told reporters here.

On the opposition demand for a CBI probe into the Dalit girl rape case, the chief minister said since his government had already ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter, there was no need to go for a CBI investigation.

Saying the agriculture department would remain with him, Mr. Patnaik noted that his government was taking steps for proper treatment of the girl, battling for survival at the ICU of SCB Medical College Hospital in Cuttack.

“I have tendered my resignation on moral ground, in view of next month’s panchayat elections. The move is to safeguard BJD’s image,” Mr. Maharathy told reporters after handing over the resignation to Mr. Patnaik at the latter’s residence here.

Mr. Maharathy, a five time MLA from Pipili Assembly in Puri district and a first time minister, however, denied any pressure from any quarter and said he sought to protect the BJD’s image.

“I am not a coward, I am a stalwart. I am ready to face any inquiry,” he said.

Criticising opposition parties, mainly Congress, Mr. Maharathy said he had full faith in the judiciary and truth would come out despite a campaign to tarnish his and BJD’s image.

Meanwhile, the police nabbed Abua alias Sukant Pradhan of village Paparanga on Thursday, in connection with the November 28, 2011 rape incident. All the four accused have now been arrested.

The resignation by Mr. Maharathy came a day after the chief minister took stock of the situation arising out of the alleged rape.

Earlier, Mr. Patnaik had assured “stringent and extremely strong action” against the guilty.

Not satisfied with the agriculture minister’s resignation, opposition political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, alleged it was an eye-wash and a drama and demanded that the chief minister step down on moral ground.

“If Maharathy could resign on moral ground why not the chief minister who holds the home portfolio?” asked senior BJP leader and former minister Bijay Mohapatra.

Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik said: “Maharathy’s resignation is not enough. It is a drama. We want the chief minister to resign. Our battle will continue.”

Making the same demand, state BJP president Jual Oram said Mr. Patnaik must resign on moral ground and agitation would continue to ensure justice to the rape victim.

Even as Mr. Maharathy quit the council of ministers, the opposition political parties and civil society outfits, which had undertaken state-wide agitations in the wake of the Dalit gangrape case, continued its demand for a CBI probe into the matter as people had no faith in the investigation by the state police.

Though the incident had allegedly taken place way back on November 28, 2011, a case was registered by the police on January 9, 2012 following the intervention of the state human rights commission.

Besides ordering a judicial inquiry into the incident, the state government had also handed over investigation to CID-crime branch and suspended the concerned police inspector from Pipili.

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