Amidst allegations and counter-allegations, the Orissa government has accused anti-POSCO activists of forging documents to claim rights over the disputed land.
In a report forwarded by the Orissa government to the environment minister Jairam Ramesh, Narayana Jena, collector of Jagatsinghpur district, question the integrity and character of the leaders of the protestors.
“The Palli Sabha resolutions are not passed [according to due process] but must have been manufactured at a later stage with an ulterior motive,” he said.
Jena said a team had visited the offices of the different Panchayat bodies, trying to find records of the resolutions that the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) claims two Panchayats in the area passed.
According to these resolutions, anyone whose ancestors have been living in the area since 1930 can claim rights under India’s Forest Rights Act, passed in 2007. Under the Act, land may be acquired only with the permission and with compensation to such traditional forest dwellers.
According to the PPSS, around 1000 people have come forward with claims in one village and another 500 in the second. It even sent a letter to Jairam Ramesh, on the basis of which the minister last week dismissed the Orissa government’s contention there were no traditional forest dwellers in the area.
The government had, in March 2008, conducted a similar exercise asking any traditional dwellers to come forward and claim their rights, but found no response.
PPSS now says that no one came forward as the rules under the Act were notified only in 2007-08, and therefore people were not aware of their rights.
Critics of Jairam Ramesh claim that the minister is blocking the project because it is situated in state ruled by the opposition BJP-BJD alliance. He has blocked several projects in Orissa, including a steel plant by Jindal Steel and Power and an expansion of an aluminium manufacturing plant by Vedanta Resources.