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Jairam Ramesh climbs down, gives nod to Posco; protests likely to intensify

After giving hope to anti-POSCO protesters by putting the project clearance on hold, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has abandoned them again, pointing out that the protestors’ resolutions did not have the requisite number of signatures.

On April 15, Jairam Ramesh had announced that he intended to put the forest clearance to India’s biggest foreign investment project, the Rs 52,000 crore Posco steel plant on hold after receiving a complaint from local protestors.

According to the complaint, the Orissa state government had totally ignored two gram-sabha (village council) resolutions passed under the 2007 Forests Rights Act that withheld the consent of the people to the project.

Jairam had also shot off a strongly worded letter asking the State government to properly examine the two resolutions and not brush them under the carpet, leading to much joy among those who have been protesting against the project since 2005.

The Orissa government did an inquiry and submitted its reply on Friday, Jairam Ramesh said today.

“The Government of Orissa has stated.. the two Palli Sabha (village council) resolutions are not valid documents.. Out of a total of 3445 voters of Dhinkia (village), only 69 personas have allegedly signed the resolution.. and of the 1907 voters of Gobindpur, only 64 persons have allegedly signed the resolution..,” Jairam said, pointing out that two-thirds of the village-people must sign a valid village resolution under the Rights Act.

He also pointed out that it was not the Panchayat Secretary, but the Panchayat President who seems to have convened the so-called village council meeting — which was not according to the laid down procedure.

He then said that his only options were to either conduct an inquiry into the whole matter or to take the State government’s version and statements at face value, and he chose to do the latter.

“Faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism.. the bona fides of a democratically elected state government cannot always be questioined by the Centre,” he said today.

Posco project can now go ahead without any hitches from the government as it has obtained the environmental nods and well as the forest nods.

However, the protestors have already hardened their stands and threatened dire consequences if the projected is pushed ahead.

Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (Posco resistance council) has already said that they will not rest till the project is relocated out of their region. The Samiti, which counts hundreds among its members and supporters, is likely to intensify its on-the-ground agitations after today’s judgement.

The Samiti is against the project in the area as it feels it will impact the livelihood of many betel-vine farmers and others in the region. It claimed to have submitted documentary evidence that there were many claimants for the land who have been living on it for 75 years — the threshold to qualify as ‘traditional dwellers’ under the Forest Rights Act.

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