In a remarkable victory of the tribal groups who were up in arms against the company’s proposed $12 billion steel complex in Odisha, the South Korean multinational company POSCO ha reportedly decided to scrap the project in the state’s Khandadhar region and the company authorities have formally written to the Odisha Government for returning the 2,700 acre land acquired.
State Industries Minister Debi Prasad Mishra on Saturday revealed that POSCO was asked by Industrial Development Corporation Odisha (IDCO) to pay off its outstanding arrear of Rs 82 crores towards land cess for the 2700 acres handed over to the government. While in its reply the foreign firm has intended to surrender the land allocated.
Out of the total 2968 acres, 2700 acres were provided to POSCO through IDCO in 2008-10. Besides, diversion of forest land was also done for the project. IDCO had written a letter earlier to POSCO asking it to clear dues towards cess. POSCO authorities replied they had not started construction and as per the lease condition, they asked to take back the acquired landDebi Prasad Mishra, Industries Minister
“The State Government has taken a decision and the Chief Minister has also accorded his seal of approval. The land will be kept under the IDCO land bank,” the Minister informed.
POSCO was to displace 22000 people, fell 3 lakh trees and destroy the nesting grounds of the Olive Ridley turtles.
The company failed to take off because of opposition from local farmers and the failure to secure iron ore mining leases, though the project was formalised on 22 June 2005 with the inking of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Odisha Government. Over the past one decade, social, political, environmental and regulatory hurdles bogged down POSCO following which it was forced to downsize its Odisha plant to 8 million tonnes per annum capacity using about half of the 4,004 acres promised earlier.
Just after the MoU was signed, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was passed, which granted legal recognition to the rights of the traditional forest-dwelling communities. Subsequently, the Meena Gupta Committee in 2010 recommended to the ministry of environment and forests that the procedure to recognise forest rights be redone in villages that fall in Posco’s site. The ministry ordered a “stop work”, but the following year gave a conditional environmental clearance.
In addition, a mining law enacted by the central government in 2015 made it mandatory for the company to buy a mining license for captive mines in an auction. Originally, the Odisha government had promised to help the company obtain the licence for free.
The land acquisition was delayed due to agitation by the locals, which often took a violent turn. However, the government could acquire 2,700 acres in 2013 for the firm to set up an 8-mt steel mill in the first phase.
The company had earlier said that the Odisha project could not make any substantial progress for the last 10 years due to the oppositions from some civil groups and local residents together with legal and administrative tangles.
The Dangaria Kandh tribals and other village groups have been fighting for past many years to protect the Niyamgiri hills in their region from mining operations.
“From the beginning, our stand has been ‘No Posco’, and it is still the same. People were willing to fight till the end of their lives,” convener of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Prashant Paikray said.
International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of the New York University School of Law and International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) and several others too had urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to suspend the POSCO-India project until and unless international human rights standards were fully complied with.