While the protests against the environmental clearance of Jindal Steel Works (JSW) in Odisha are gaining momentum, the firm recently initiated a public hearing at Gadakujanga, Jagatsinghpur area of the state to pave way for the final clearances which are required by the project. However, residents allege that they were not let inside the premises and the environmental impact assessment processes are being flouted.
Speaking to NewsClick, Sujata Sahani, an activist from the state who was present at the public hearing, said, “The common people, especially the dalits were not allowed inside the premises. Moreover, at the venue the members of the ruling Biju Janata Dal, ensured that people could not register themselves by covering the registration desks, so that even those who had somehow managed to reach were not given a chance to express their concerns.” She added, “We are seeing blatant governmental hypocrisy, as there is no clarity over the structure of the project or the kind of impact it will have on the environment.”
The administration reportedly called in crowds from villages that are not directly affected by the project to show that the process of environmental clearances is being followed.
An activist from the Save Niyamgiricampaign told NewsClick, “Over five villages across the area protested against the public hearing. In villages such as Dhinkia, people were not let inside the public hearings, in some other villages such as Govindpur, the villagers did not go as a way of protest. Moreover, there were no notices or information available for the residents to know when and where was the public hearing taking place.”
Two years after a 12-year-long struggle against the construction of a mega steel plant by POSCO Group came to an end, Odisha government is now paving the way for a mega project by the Jindal Group. The Odisha government is reportedly facilitating transfer of land acquired from the local betel vine growers and fisherfolk in Jagatsinghpur district to Jindal Steel Works. Activists say that this deprives peasantry of the agriculturally fertile land and that the government is snatching away their source of income and livelihood.
The 2,700 acres of land, forcibly acquired by the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO), was to be 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. It mandates that land acquired but not utilised within five years of possession should be returned to the people.
However, the Odisha government made a policy revision in 2015, which said that such land can be kept in a ‘Land Bank’ by the state government. The forest clearance or an environmental go-ahead was given to the company in August this year by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Activists state that this move is being pushed despite the National Green Tribunal halting the construction of the boundary wall built by IDCO for JSW.