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Odisha: FRA violated in Keonjhar to favour mining company

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

Essel Mining, Forest Rights Act, Odisha  
 
Campaign for Survival and Dignity, an NGO in Odisha that works to facilitate and ensure just implementation of the FRA, has made allegation levelling charges of conspiracy on the Keonjhar District Administration for being engaged in rampant diversion of forest land to favour Essel Mining and Industries Ltd.  in violation of Forest Rights Act and Forest Conservation Act of India.  

HNF Correspondent

 
 

Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) circular, other forest and environmental laws are being grossly violated by Odisha state machinery during diversion of forest land for most public and private sector projects. Such cases have become rampant in Odisha's mineral rich district of Keonjhar where administration violates laws to favour mining companies.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), an NGO in Odisha that has been fighting for just implementation of the FRA in the country, has made this allegation in a press release while levelling charges of serious conspiracy on the Keonjhar District Administration for being engaged in rampant diversion of forest land to favour Essel Mining and Industries Ltd in violation of FRA.

 

The said project requires a total of 456.100 hectares of land for which forest land diversion is necessary.

CSD has questioned the manner in which “Gram Sabhas” were held in the affected villages of Jalahari, Bholbeda, Jajanga, Jurudi, Banspani and Khuntpani under Joda-Block, Badbil Tahasil, on 1st November 2013 to take approval for diversion of 342.602 hectare of forest land to facilitate the proposed project of Essel Mining and Industries in Kendujhar district. After visiting the affected villages and interacting with the tribal villagers, CSD found that the Gram Sabhas were held in violation of FRA and Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

CSD has also made serious allegations against the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC), Champua and District Level Committee (DLC) Keonjhar, formed as per norms of FRA, of giving approval for diversion of forest land on 24th December 2013 without complying the MoEF Circular of 30th July 2009 which clearly says that all State Governments are bound to have initiated and completed the forest rights settlement process before giving approval. Even sub section (a) of the circular says, “A letter from the State Government certifying that the complete process for identification and settlement of rights under the FRA has been carried out for the entire forest area proposed for diversion, with a record of all consultation and meeting held,” must be obtained before giving such approval.

As per the 2009 Circular, individual and community forest rights of the people depended over it should have been settled before diversion of any forest land. “But the reality is that the District Administration has neither informed the affected tribal people about the norms set in FRA nor has it initiated any process for settlement of their rights, individual as well of community,” complained CSD.

Allegation of violation of PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 is also made in the press release placing the fact that the area comes under Schedule V of Indian Constitution. “Most of the families are landless in the affected villages. Even the Government has failed to provide land to the landless tribal families over the period,” said the release.

The release says, while taking example of Jalahari village, there are 963 households in the village as per 2011 Census and only 10.89% of the village area is private land owned by 45 families, and as per RoR. Rest of the area amounting to 89.10% of the village is public land where most of the landless families depend for their subsistence. This land could have been handed over to the land less people as per FRA and other revenue laws. But instead of doing so, acquiring over 323 acres of the village land in the interest of a private company is unfortunate and, also, is a gross violation of constitutional rights of people of the village.

“Those who should have made the poor tribal community aware of their rights; who should have settled the rights recognized under FRA, are seriously engaged in helping the Private Mining Companies by holding arbitrary Gram Sabhas to ensure approval for diversion of forest land,” the release said while pointing at a possible nexus between Keonjhar district administration and mining companies.

“District administration arbitrarily reported that out of 2045 villages in the district, process of individual forest rights recognition and settlement has already been completed in 1248 villages by 31st Dec 2013,” mentioned the release adding that “the proceeding, dated 24.12.2013, of DLC, Keonjhar, reflects how the administration is seriously engaged in diverting large areas of forest land without duly considering the individual and community forest rights recognized by FRA.”

As per the press release, CSD has filed a petition bringing such illegal attempts for diversion of forest land before the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, and has prayed to declare the gram Sabhas of 1st November 2013 as null and void since they have been held illegally. It also appealed for appropriate disciplinary action against the SDLC and DLC officials and to recognize the rights of the affected forest dwellers. CSD has also sought a CBI inquiry of the case alleging that the district administration is hand in glove with the Essel Mining and Industries Ltd. while allowing diversion of forest land in violation of forest rights act and all such other laws of the land.

 
   
 

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