The Orissa government has refuted allegations of the four-member committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), on the issue of violations of Forest Rights Act and presence of traditional forest dwellers at the Posco project site.
In its reply to the MoEF dated August 13, the department of forest and environment has categorically stated that there are no traditional forest dwellers at the Posco site. It has also clarified that there are no claimants under the Forest Rights Act and certain land records pertaining to the erstwhile Bardhaman estate are not authentic.
"We have clarified to the MoEF that there are no traditional forest dwellers at the site. The Jagatsinghpur district administration had invited claims for forest rights but there are no claimants. Moreover, the land records pertaining to the erstwhile Bardhaman estate, as pointed out by the Saxena panel, are not authentic," said a top official of the state forest and environment department.
The Saxena committee which had recommended stopping of all work on the Posco project, had pointed out that certain palli sabhas at the project site had passed resolutions opposing diversion of forest land but these resolutions were not sent by the state government.
However, the state government had denied the holding of such resolutions.
Such palli sabha resolutions were never held as has been claimed by the Saxena panel in its report, the official added.
The MoEF in a letter dated August 5, to the Principal Secretary (forest and environment), Orissa government, had directed to stop all work on the Posco project and provide a factual report on the work already executed, including handing over of forest and non-forest land to the company.
In response to this missive of the MoEF, the state forest and environment department had filed to respond.
According to sources, 1000 acres of land have already been acquired for the Posco project and a joint task force has been constituted comprising the officials of forest and revenue departments as well as police officials to guard this forest land and prevent raising of betel vines.
In a letter to the Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, the panel chairman and member of the National Advisory Council, N C Saxena had stated that there are Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) at the project contrary to the claims made by the district administration.
The presence of OTFD is backed by documentary and oral evidence which include records of the old Bardhaman estate, rent receipts of families from the early 20th century and forest settlement records.
The letter also stated that the FRA process has not been completed, in fact it has no proceeded beyond the initial stages for various reasons and it is therefore incorrect for the district administration to conclude that there are no OTFDs in the area without having gone through the process of claims.
The panel was of the view that land acquisition and demolition of betel vines being carried out by the district administration is a violation of FRA.
The panel had pulled up the district administration for not making pro-active moves for the identification of potential claimants and providing them documents that could help determine their eligibility.