It was natural to expect that after the Modi sarkar took charge at Delhi setting up of the mega steel plant in Odisha will be on a roller coaster. The lengthy processes will be shortened and things will start rolling for the South Korean steel giant, that has been on the wait since 8 years. More definitive sign was the directive by Mr. Narendra Modi to streamline the project clearance process. He has mooted fixed time frames by which a decision on the files has to be taken by the concerned officials. This change had all the reasons for POSCO to rejoice. But, if the developments on the ground in Odisha are any indication there is not much for POSCO to write home about other than copying the old letters to new datelines.
These families were languishing in the transit camp with a paltry support of Rs 2400 per month and never graduated to a rehabilitation site. And this was not for a month or two it was more than seven long years. These 52 families had left Dhinkia in the year 2007. In all these years neither POSCO nor the state administrations were of any help to them. Neither were they provided with any jobs or livelihood options nor with any rehabilitation. But, it certainly used the relocation of these 52 families to their advantage by tom toming that even a section of the villagers of Dhinkia are supporting the project. Though the district administration assisted these families in terms of transport and an allowance of Rs 2400, the return was not facilitated nor managed the return of these families to their villages. It was a unification of these families with the anti-posco group in the village. So the anti-POSCO group is consolidating its support base. Prior to this too the groups supporting POSCO had expressed their displeasure over awarding of contractual work and not rewarding them in any other manner. It was immediately after the green clearance to POSCO. Then too the two warring factions had come closer. Over all it is not at all a good news for the state administration as well as POSCO. And it is all their own doing as if failed to nurture the constituency of the groups supporting the project. May be this will demand a very heavy price for the project.
The second bad news for POSCO is the expansion of base of the anti Posco group to Khandadhar area in Keonjhar – Sundergarh boarder. Khandadhar is the place where the iron ore is to be sourced for the 8 million tone plant, which at present has the environmental clearance for only 4 million tones. And Khandadhar is a 244 feet high water fall (second highest in Odisha and 12th highest in India) that is the pride of Odisha. Khandadhar mines will have serious implications for the primitive tribal group Paudi Bhuyans living in this area. Khandadhar forest range is a precious forest patch with a number of rare species. To add to this the earlier (and continuing) mining activities have wrought havoc here. The focus of anti-posco movement moved to Khandadhar region only after the Ministry of Forest and Environment accorded clearance to Posco sans the Port project and a reduced capacity of 4 million tones. This pushed the strongest of the anit-POSSO outfits POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Sammitte on a back foot as POSCO now had got the clearance for 4 MT . This soon was followed by the Odisha CM according prospecting license to POSCO for the Khandadhar mines. So now, if POSCO is to be stalled then they have to join forces at Khandadhara. Because it is no secret that even if POSCO has got the environmental clearance for a 4 Mt steel plant, it will not go full steam with the plant unless and until it gets iron ore. So stopping it from getting iron ore will be a certain deterrent for POSCO to set up the plant at Dhinkia.
There has been resistance to iron ore mining at Khandadhar ever since it was reported that POSCO will be getting the iron ore from here. But the long drawn court case over the prospecting licence has is a way lulled the resistance movement. Different formations have been opposing mining lease to POSCO. After the Chief Minister of Odisha allowed prospecting license to POSCO, these groups have been active. Opposition to POSCO cuts across political lines. Rather local leaders do not see a future for themselves if they do not oppose mining in the Khandadhar area. It is believed that the Minister for Tribal Affairs and the lone BJP MP from Odisha Mr. Jual Oram owes his victory to his opposition to mining. Now that POSCO Pratirodha Sangram Samittee also joined forces with the resisting groups, it will not be an easy task for the government to grant the mining license to POSCO without much collateral damage.
On the occasion of World
Environment Day 5th of June hundreds of tribal communities including Paudia Bhuyan tribe gathered at Budhabhui braving the scorching heat and have pledged to save the bio-rich reserve from mining. Under the aegis of Khandadhara Surakshaya Samittee (KSSS) the tribals have vowed that they will not allow their ancestral land to be torn apart for mining. Head of the Paudia Bhuyans Bilua Naik has administered the oath to the tribals that they will fight for the protection of their ancestral land. The Congress MLA of Talsara Prafulla Majhi and the Bonai MLA Laxman Munda (CPM) also have thrown their weight behind this movement.
Many others anti displacement movements leaders like Abhaya Sahu of Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samittee, Prafulla Samantaray of Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Lingaraj Pradhan Convener of Coordination Committees of Western Odisha Farmers’ Organizations also have joined forces with KSSS. They have appealed both the State government and the Union government to ensure that mining operations are not carried out in the 25 kms radius of Khandadhar water fall and this be accorded the status of national natural heritage status.
Consolidation of forces in Dhinkia as well as in Khandadhar certainly will be a big worry for POSCO and the governments both at the center as well as the state. But, what is more intriguing is the unflinching stand of Jual Oram, the Tribal Affairs minister in the Modi cabinet. He has made it clear in a press conference that his stand on Khandadhar mines remains unchanged and at no cost the displacement of tribals and degradation of environment can not be allowed. POSCO must leave Odisha. He also has committed that he will educate the concerned ministries about the impact Khandadhar mines will have on the lives and livelihoods of the tribals there and the unique Khandadhar water fall. Anti POSCO movement in Odisha will certainly get a boost with such support from a cabinet minister. But will Jual Oram have the final say is the million dollar question that is making rounds in the development circle in Odisha. Given the fact that Prime Minister Modi is in a hurry to clear projects, and no doubt POSCO being the crown project, opposition from his own cabinet minister may not go down well with Modi. To add spice to this, Modi juggling with numbers to get a majority in the House of Elders has hopes from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) support in Rajya Sabha. And for the Odisha Chief Minister Navin Pattnaik POSCO project has been a prestige issue. Will Modi displease Nabin? Will he sacrifice the largest FDI in India
while he has so much of desperation to boost the Indian economy? Will Jual be able to resist pressure from Modi and the corporate forces? Only time has the answer.
But one thing is sure that Khandadhar will be in the eye of the storm in the coming years. Khandadhar will have the final say whether POSCO will be set up or not. The precedent of Niyamgiri where the Honourable Supreme Court of India ruled that the local Gram Sabhas have the final say whether mining should be carried out for Vedanta in Niyamgiri hills or not, may weigh heavily against POSCO. The movement leaders who had gathered at Budhabhui in Mayurbhanj already have articulated that Khandadhar region resembles all features of Niyamgiri. Hence the state government should abide by the Supreme Court Order related to Niyamgiri that makes it mandatory to take prior approval of the local Gram Sabha before recommending mining right to POSCO.
To sum it up it is very difficult to predict if POSCO will be grounded or not and it at all it will be when, while the forces against it are strengthened on one hand and on the other this is the largest foreign investment that ideally should have all the support of the Modi sarkar desperate to add a feather to its cap. A statement by Suna Dehury could be the pointer “Niyamraja saved the Niyamgiri hills. Maa Khand Kumari will save Khandadhar. There should be no doubt about it.”
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