Over the approximately two and a half months of the existence of the POSCO Enquiry Committee, the four members of the Committee spent a considerable amount of time studying documents and reports relevant to the POSCO enquiry, some obtained by us through our own efforts, some, papers submitted to us by various stakeholders and interested parties; meeting a large number of people, viz. persons belonging to the affected villages in Jagatsinghpur district, organisations and persons concerned about the environment, wildlife, livelihoods and displacement, officials of the State Govt of Orissa, members of political parties, representatives of POSCO, and sundry others; visiting several of the affected villages and the site of the proposed captive port of POSCO; and deliberating at length among themselves.
While the Committee was looking into various aspects of the POSCO issue, another committee headed by Mr. NC Saxena, set up to look into the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and several other issues connected with a proposed bauxite mine lease (linked to M/s Vedanta Alumina Ltd) in the Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi district of Orissa, submitted its report. That report was a scathing indictment of the Govt of Orissa’s poor implementation of the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act in the area, its neglect of the rights of tribals belonging to the Primitive Tribal Groups, and its turning a blind eye to major violations of the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act. Acting on this report, the Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected the application for forest clearance of the Orissa Mining Corporation which would have led to the mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills. Since both the POSCO and the Vedanta projects are located in Orissa, both are mineral based industries, and both have a major chunk of forest land within its area, there was an immediate assumption that POSCO too would be treated similarly by the Committee and the MOEF.
It is important to point out that POSCO and Vedanta are very different projects and operate in different environs and circumstances. Vedanta’s alumina plant (and thebauxite mine for which lease was applied for by the Orissa Mining Corporation), islocated in the less developed western part of Orissa, in a Scheduled Area which is home to two Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs). These tribes are forest dwellers whose livelihood and culture depend on the dense forests in the area; displacing them would destroy their lives. Scheduled Tribes enjoy an important Constitutional status,and disturbing or displacing them stands on a different footing from displacement of other people. POSCO’s plant, on the other hand is to be located in a coastal district,in the more developed eastern part of Orissa; the area is not a Scheduled Area andhas virtually no Scheduled Tribe people. The people to be displaced are mostly agricultural and fishermen families (about 700 families); several are Scheduled Castes. Though POSCO is also to be located on forest land (for which clearance under the Forest Conservation Act is necessary), the area recorded as forest is mainly 3 sandy waste, with some scrub forest, apart from the casuarina plantations in the area. A very important difference also is that while the construction of the Vedanta project is almost complete (including unauthorised construction of the expanded portion for which no environment clearance had been taken), construction on the POSCO project is yet to start, the land not having been handed over to the company by the State Government, so far.