Orissa stops land acquisition for POSCO project


Bhubaneswar: Orissa officials Saturday stopped the land acquisition process for South Korean steel major POSCO’s $12 billion project in Jagatsinghpur district, two days after the union environment and forests ministry asked it to stop all work on the project.

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“We have stopped the land acquisition process today (Saturday) till an indefinite period. We are awaiting further instruction from the state government,” a senior district official told IANS.

The central government Thursday asked the state government to stop all work, including land acquisition, related to the project due to violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

The ministry said its decision was based on the recommendation of a joint panel of the environment and tribal affairs ministries.

According to the panel which visited the proposed site last month, land acquisition work related to the project which started July 27 is a violation of the FRA and the conditions laid down by the environment ministry on forest clearance.

Peeved by the direction, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Friday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his immediate intervention into the matter as the ministry order is likely to delay the project further.

“The chief minister has sent a three page protest letter to the prime minister marking a copy to union environment and forests minister,” a senior official in chief minister’s office told IANS.

“The chief minister has told the prime minister that the state government is expediting the land acquisition process after necessary legal approval,” he said.

Patnaik has also said that the state government had sent the proposal on diversion of forest land to the environment and forests ministry June 26, 2007, the official said.

He contended that the approval was granted after it was thoroughly scrutinised by the advisory committee of the ministry, he said.

The chief minister has stated in his letter that the forest diversion plan also received the approval of the Supreme Court Aug 8, 2008.

The chief minister has said that the report of the committee should not be used as a pretext to stop work. He has also said that such move would affect the investment climate in the country, the official said.

The South Korean firm had signed a deal with the Orissa government in 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip by 2016.

POSCO requires about 4,004 acres, mostly government land, for the project of which 2,900 acres are forest land.

Thousands of villagers have been protesting against the project, saying it will displace them from their homeland and ruin their betel leaf farms.

POSCO and the state government maintain the project will bring prosperity and employment to an impoverished region.