Saturday, April 17, 2010

Trouble Spots

Two major steel projects envisaging combined capacity of 18 million tons of steel production a year have not been able to make any progress for the last five years because of serious problems related to land acquisition from tribals and farmers. These are Korean steel major Posco’s 12 MTPA integrated steel plant and Tata Steel’s 6 MTPA plant.

Posco’s was the first major foreign direct investment proposal after the Orissa government invited big industrial groups to set up the state’s second steel plant after the public sector Rourkela steel plant. Though the state government earmarked 4004 acres of land, of which 2900 acres was forest land, Posco has not yet got the possession of the land. This, despite the fact that the Union ministry of environment and forest has given final clearance for acquiring forest land in Orissa for its steel plant project and the company has already deposited Rs 105 crore with the state government towards compensatory afforestation.

Posco has sought the state government’s help in acquiring land from the villagers after the people cultivating the land for betel leaf and prawns rejected a rehabilitation package announced by the company. The company has announced a compensation of Rs.75,000 per acre for the loss of land meant for betel vines, Rs.1 lakh per acre for prawn farms and Rs.75,000 per acre for cultivable land. But the package has failed to enthuse the locals.

“It is a dream compensation package. Yet, the villagers are adamant to vacate the land. This is nothing but bargaining for more compensation,” says Priyabrata Patnaik, the chairman and managing director of Industrial and Investment Development Corporation (IDCO), the nodal agency empowered to acquire land in the state.

A Posco spokesman, expressing concern at the delay in getting the possession of the land, said, “The company has already made substantial investment on the project in the last five years since the signing of the memorandum of understanding with the government; how long can we afford to wait for the land.”

The other project, which has still failed to take off is that of the Tata Steel which has proposed to set up a 6 MTPA integrated steel plant in Kalinganagar, an industrial estate being described by the state government as the ‘Steel Hub of India’, about 150 km from the state capital in Jajpur district.

The government has agreed to provide 3,471 acres of land, which it had acquired in 1992, to Tata Steel for setting up the plant. Of the allotted land, private ownership accounted for 2,755 acres impacting 562 core families which comprise of 1,195 nuclear families belonging to six revenue villages. While compensation under the land acquisition act was paid to them in 1992, the villagers were allowed to retain the possession and continue cultivation of land.

While as many as 791 families out of 1,195 families have relocated voluntarily, the remaining 404 families have refused to move out of the core area. It is these 404 families who have been opposing the project demanding land for land as part of the compensation, rather than the cash component. There have been violent clashes between anti and pro project as also between the protesting villagers and the police.

The proposed ‘world-class’ university of Vedanta on the Konarka-Puri coast is also facing protest from the villagers around the 6,000 acres of land allotted to Vedanta by the state government. The protesting villagers have not allowed Vedanta to take possession of the land. In the meantime, Lok Ayukta has ordered an inquiry into the alleged corruption in allocation of land from out of the land owned by the Jagannath Temple trust.

The 8,000-strong Dongaria tribe residing in the foothills of the Niyamgiri hill in Kalahandi district too have been carrying out a resistance movement against the mining of bauxite from the hill top on the ground that their tribal diety Niyamraja resides there and any mining activities would destroy the ecology of the region and deprive them of the their main source of livelihood, which is the forest. The ministry of environment is yet to give its clearance to Orissa Mining Corporation for carrying out mining of bauxite from the hill top. This has adversely impacted the alumina refinery of Vedanta at Lanjigarh.

Arcelor Mittal’s proposed steel plant in Keonjhar district too has not been able to take off due to stiff opposition from the people who are likely to displaced by the project. Though the Orissa government had committed to 8,000 acres in Keonjhar district for the proposed Arcelor Mittal steel plant at the time of signing the MoU in 2006, it has not yet been able to provide any land. The process has been delayed due to agitation by displaced families under the banner of Mittal Pratirodh Manch as most of the land is fertile agricultural land.

Agitations have also stalled allotment of land for setting up of a couple of thermal power plants, not on the grounds of displacement, but because these power plants would consume great amount of water at the cost of irrigation to cultivable land.

No comments: