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Posco India: Khandadhar may take Odisha's War for Steel to next stage

 

Posted on Sunday June 08, 2014

Last updated Monday June 09, 2014

  Posco, Odisha, India, Mining, Khandadhar, Jual Oram

Khandadhar, the hill range in Odisha’s mineral rich Sindargarh district covered by thick natural forest and the host of one of the most spectacular water falls, comes under the fifth schedule of Indian Constitution that protects the rights of the tribal people over the forests and other natural resources.

Basudev Mahapatra
 

It’s another jolt to India’s largest Foreign Direct Investment Project planned in Odisha as the tribals of Khandadhar hill range have pledged to protect the Khandardhar Hill and its green cover from all and any destructive attempt by the South Korean steel producer Posco.

In a ceremonial oath taken at the foot hill of Khandadhar waterfall on the World Environment day, people vowed, taking water in their hands, to protect Khandadhar and the bounty of nature it endures from all kind of corporate invasion till their last breath.

The provincial government of Odisha has recommended for approval of Posco’s proposal to allot captive mine from the Khandadhar iron ore reserves, overlooking the ecological issues associated with it, strong resistance on the ground and the cases regarding leasing out and mining at Khandadhar that are still pending in the courts.

“About 80 per cent of the streams in the Khandadhar region have vanished resulting in 50% decrease in the water-flow to the waterfalls at Padhanpata in Deogarh, Khandadhar in Sundargarh and Sanaghagara and Badaghagara in Keonjhar district. The shortage of water would reach alarming proportions if mining by Posco is allowed in the Khandadhar hills,” said a former lawmaker Bibhudendra Pratap Das who is also the president of the farmers’ body Odisha Krushak Mahasangh.

“Keeping in view that the rapid decline in forest cover has forced wild animals to stray into human habitations in search of water and food, allowing more mining will further aggravate the man-animal conflict in the region,” Das added.

Khandadhar, the hill range in Odisha’s mineral rich Sindargarh district covered by thick natural forest and the host of one of the most spectacular water falls, comes under the fifth schedule of Indian Constitution that protects the rights of the tribal people over the forests and other natural resources. Even though a special Act named “Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act” of 1996 has been enacted through a special amendment, the tribal communities are yet to exercise their powers delegated through the Act. The irony is that states like Odisha are not even implementing the Act fearing that this would restrict their authority to pursue several projects in favour of large corporate houses and foreign investors.

The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, which is enacted to protect the rights of tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers, is not respected by the governments too. Since Khandadhar is habitat of the Paudi Bhuyan, a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG), both the State and Central governments are supposed to proceed on everything in consultation with the tribal people following the provision of FRA.

The apex court of India, in its landmark judgment over mining in the Niyamgiri hill range, also asked the government to consult and obtain consent of the tribal people living in the forest villages. As people unanimously said ‘No’ to mining, the UK based Vedanta Group had to stop all its activities for mining bauxite out of the hill.

While raising their voice against the anti-people projects pursued by the governments in the state of Odisha and at the centre as well, tribals living in Khandadhar expressed their anger over the ongoing mining activities by the state owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) which already have destructive impacts on the forest and the whole ecosystem.

“Water extraction by OMC by checking the Phuljhar Nala restricts the water flow and leads to scarcity of drinking water for the locals,” said the tribal people who joined the rally.

Since Khandadhar is the major source of water and livelihood for thousands of tribal families, the local communities are not convinced to spare it for mining activities at any cost.

Local political leaders like the Member of Parliament from the area, Jual Oram, who also happens to the Minister of Tribal Affairs in the Modi cabinet, are against the idea of mining activities in Khandadhar from the very beginning.

During his recent visit, Jual said while addressing media in Bhubaneswar, “My stand on mining in Khandadhar hills is still the same. I am against any project that has the potential to harm the natural environment or cause displacement. I am for zero displacement and no harm to the natural heritage.”

Just after taking charge of the Tribal Affairs Ministry, Jual urged that the Posco project be stopped in view of the strong opposition by people at the project site and the place where it want to have a captive mine.

It’s because of strong people’s resistance that Posco has not yet been able to start the works for its US$12 billion integrated steel plant project for which it signed the memoranda of understanding (MoU) on June 22, 2005. In spite of all supports from the Odisha government, the project is facing opposition from people on issues of displacement, allotment of water to the plant from river Mahanadi, the lease for captive iron ore mine and ecological impacts of mining activities in Khandadhar.

With the legal battle over several issues pending in the court, people’s movements going stronger and obtaining support from local political leaders, issues adding up, it may not be easy on part of the government and the South Korean steel producer Posco to push the project hard and get it realised in a shorter time.

Rather, as it looks like, the War for Steel may expand and enter its next phase over the issues of Water to the plant and mining at Khandadhar.

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