Settle claims before land acquisition: MoEF to Posco

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 29 2010, 05:34am hrs
The ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has categorically stated settlement of claims under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has to take place before any process of land acquisition can be initiated in Jagastsinghpura district of Orissathe site of the $12 billion steel plant by Posco. What makes the ministrys stance rather untenable is that it granted environmental clearance to the company on January 1, 2010, without there being any such settlement in place.

The ministry has tried to cover its tracks by saying that the environmental clearance would require that FRA settlements were done first, but that did not clarify completely the status of the environmental clearance already granted.

The confusion over the status of the clearance is compounded by the fact that there is fierce resistance among those living in those areas to the project. Environmental activist and member of the FRA committee Ashish Kothari says that the process of settling claims under FRA had just begun in the area. And of course, people whose claims are recognised on the land, may well decide that they do not want the project, he said.

The dilemma for the government and more for the company then would be about whether or not the earlier environmental clearance can be insisted upon. Out of the total 4004 acres of land required for the project 2900 acres is forest land and the process of settling claims has just begun. The environment ministry is silent on the matter. Minister of forest & environment Jairam Ramesh in a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha said the clearance was subject to enviromental law. The state government had in March said there were no tribal people residing in the designated forest land.

Shankar Gopalkrishnan of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD) said under such circumstances, the legality of the process of land acquisition was moot. We are now awaiting the process of settlement of claims and just how fair that is going to be, he said.