The Forest Rights Act

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Timeline of Events Relating to Forest Rights in POSCO Area

Timeline of Events in POSCO Project Area Relating to Forest Rights

(For more legal details and copies of the concerned documents, see our “List of Dates and Documents Related to POSCO Forest Clearance” (10MB file)

June 22, 2005: MoU signed between Orissa government and POSCO-India, subsidiary of the POSCO Corporation of South Korea. MoU pertains to an integrated iron ore mine – steel plant – private port project. Rs. 51,000 crore investment is spoken of. Critics point out that there are almost no linkages with local or national economy; operation consists of extracting iron ore while paying extremely low rates of royalty, processing into steel without paying full land, electricity, water or tax costs (due to SEZ status and use of State government’s powers for all these resources), and exporting it.

MoU allocates an area of 4,004 acres for the steel plant in Jagatsinghpur District. Of this, 1,253 hectares (approximately 3,000 acres) are officially classified as forest land. However, this “forest land” is largely under cultivation by various betel vine, cashew nut and other cash crop cultivators as well as people engaged in aquaculture. Some of these people have lived in the area for over a century and most have been there for several decades. The land was classified as forest land as a result of an agitation in the 1950’s demanding afforestation in the area. The main actual forests of the area are mangroves, which occupy only a small part of the “forest” land.

Due to absence of title, out of an estimated 4,000 families that will be physically displaced by the steel plant, only 270 odd are officially entitled to compensation.

August / September 2005: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti formed to oppose project. A people’s blockade declared in three gram panchayat areas affected by plant. The blockade allows all persons entry and exit except government officials and POSCO employees. The blockade continues till date in Dhinkia,one of the three gram panchayats.

 

December 18, 2006: Forest Rights Act passed by Parliament. Some sections that are relevant:

2(o) declares that all those living on forest land for at least three generations (75 years), as well as forest dwelling scheduled tribes, have rights under the Act

3(1)(a) recognises right to land under occupation and/or cultivation in forest areas

3(1)(c) recognises right to own, use, collect, dispose of minor forest produce

4(5) bars removal of any forest dweller without recognition of rights

5 empowers gram sabha to protect and manage forests as a statutory authority

November 29, 2007: Police and hired goondas attack PPSS dharna at one entry point with bombs – more than 50 people injured – dharna tent demolished. The protesters are driven back into one gram panchayat (Dhinkia). Police set up camps in the schools of the other two villages, deploy in heavy force.

January 1, 2008: Forest Rights Act notified into force.

March 23, 2008: Gram sabha of Dhinkia passes resolution electing a Forest Rights Committee and starting process of implementation under the Forest Rights Act. Resolution also states the gram sabha’s decision to protect the surrounding area from environmental destruction in exercise of its powers under section 5. The State government ignores the gram sabha and takes no steps to implement Act in the area.

August 8, 2008: Supreme Court upholds “in principle” clearance for use of forest land but directs Environment Ministry to proceed “in accordance with law.” No final clearance granted. The case is only between Orissa government, Central governent and POSCO; no opponents to the project are represented.

August 3, 2009: Following prolonged protest, Environment Ministry issues circular clearly stating that no application for “diversion” (i.e. clearance for non-forest use) can be made without inter alia certificates from gram sabhas of the affected area stating that:

  1. The process of implementation of the Forest Rights Act is complete and all rights have been recognised
  2. That they consent to the diversion after being informed of the nature and details of the project and rehabilitation project.

50% quorum is required. Without these requirements, the Ministry says, no final clearance can be granted.

October 24, 2009: Chief Secretary of Orissa writes to all District Collectors, asking them to furnish certificates and other information required for compliance with the Ministry circular in areas proposed for diversion.

December 19,2009: Jagatsinghpur District Collector writes to Block Development Officer, Erasama, asking him to get the approval of the gram sabhas of the area for the proposed diversion for POSCO.

POSCO_visit_report_final_482010>December 29, 2009: In violation of its own circular and the Forest Rights Act, Ministry grants final clearance for diversion of forest land, without having gram sabha resolutions certifying either of the conditions in its own circular.

January 5, 2010: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti writes to Ministry against illegal action. CPI also raises issue, and various people’s organisations protest.

January 8, 2010: Environment Ministry “clarifies” that clearance is subject to the August 3rd, 2009 circular. Despite the “clarification”, illegal final clearance is not withdrawn and all government officials are treating it as final. The Ministry claims it is “conditional”, but no one knows who will decide on this “condition”, since the clearance is final.

January 19, 2010: BDO Erasama writes to sarpanches of three gram panchayats, asking them to hold gram sabhas and inform him of the “opinion” of the gram sabhas on the proposed diversion before February 10th.

February 2010: PPSS begins a three month dharna at main entry point at Balitutha.

February 4, 2010: Nuagaon gram sabha passes a resolution reasserting people’s rights and powers under the Forest Rights Act while rejecting the proposed diversion.

February 5, 2010: Dhinkia gram sabha passes a similar resolution.

February 6, 2010: Govindpur gram sabha passes a similar resolution.

February 23, 2010: District Collector sends letter to the State government claiming that “complete process for diversion and settlement” under the Forest Rights Act “has been carried out for the entire forest area … in village Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Polanga, Nuagaon…” He goes on to say that “palli sabha / gram sabha … were conducted in all 3 G.P.s covering the project area and the participants were explained in vernacular…” How exactly did the Collector manage to do this when the village of Dhinkia has been out of bounds for government officials for more than 5 years?

Attached to the certificate are three reports of gram sabha meetings that were ostensibly passed on March 23, 2008. These typed and photocopied reports are signed by the panchayat secretaries and the executive officers. The actual gram sabha resolution of March 23, 2008, as well as those passed in the first week of February, 2010, in response to his own letter, are ignored by the Collector.

Without complying with any of the processes required under the Act, the Collector “certifies” that there are no tribals or other forest dwellers in the area.

March 16, 2010: State government relays Collector’s letter to MoEF.

April 15, 2010: MoEF writes back to State government asking for translations of the gram sabha resolutions.

May 11 2010: 25 platoons of police deploy in the area. Attack on protesters expected at any moment.

May 15 2010: Attack begins. At least 50 people injured, market areas and protest camps burned, police attacking people.

May 23 2010: Communist Party of India leader D Raja writes to the Prime Minister, demonstrating in detail how the Environment Ministry and the Orissa government have violated the law and how the Orissa government has deliberately suppressed facts. Environment Ministry does not reply.

July 24 2010: Three member subcommittee of Environment Ministry’s “Committee to Study the Forest Rights Act” visit the area.

July 26 2010: In reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh states that “no forest land shall be handed over to the User Agency before settlement of rights under the
[Forest Rights] Act.”

July 28 2010: Orissa government begins taking over forest lands being cultivated by some people and paying them “compensation cheques.” The government claims are all “willing sellers”, but at least one person returns the cheque and another attempts suicide after his betel vines are destroyed (see Dharitri, August 3rd). In any case, the takeover of the land is illegal.

July 29 2010: Environment Ministry constitutes a special four member Committee, chaired by former Environment Secretary Meena Gupta, to look into the questions of “relief and rehabilitation” as well as “settlement of rights under the Forest Rights Act” in the POSCO area. The notification of the Committee is available here.

August 4 2010: Subcommittee of Committee on the Forest Rights Act issues report, confirming the points raised by PPSS and CPI MP D Raja and also recommending that Environment Ministry withdraw the illegal clearance and halt the ongoing process of land takeovers. The report is available here.

August 6 2010: Environment Ministry issues “stop work” order to Orissa government on POSCO, but allows clearance to stand. Copy of the order is available here.

August 11 2010: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti writes to Environment Ministry demanding withdrawal of the illegal forest clearance and rejecting the Meena Gupta Committee.

October 18 2010: Meena Gupta Committee submits report. Three member majority presents detailed documentary evidence from governemnt records of the presence of both tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers in the project area. Finds that the forest clearance was illegal and must be withdrawn; the Forest Rights Act has not been implemented; the State government has given false statements. Also finds that the environment clearance process was farcical. The report of the Enquiry Committee is available here.

Sole member Meena Gupta (committee chairperson) dissents. She concurs that the Forest Righst Act has not been properly implemented and recommends re-implementation. Otherwise says clearances can stand. Her dissenting report is available here. Majority writes a letter saying Gupta’s report is legally untenable.

October 25 2010: Enquiry Committee report placed before the Forest Advisory Committee. Committee initially tries to pass the buck to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Committee unable to sign its own minutes as forest bureaucracy tries to prevent decision.

November 19 2010: Forest Advisory Committee finally reaches a decision, recommends “temporary withdrawal” of the forest clearance on grounds of violation of the Forest Rights Act. For a news report on the development, see here.

January 31 2011: Ignoring reports of the Enquiry Committee, Saxena Committee, and the Forest Advisory Committee, as well as ignoring provisions of the Forest Rights Act and of its own order of August 3rd, 2009, Environment Ministry says project can go ahead with “final forest clearance”if Orissa government gives an “assurance” that there are no eligible persons in the area.

February 2, 2011: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) writes letter to MoEF showing how they meet all the conditions laid out in the January 31st order and that any statement to the contrary by the Orissa government is clearly a lie, based on evidence already with MoEF.

February 3, 2011: Dhinkia sarpanch issues notice for calling of palli sabha meeting in Dhinkia on February 21st. Copy of notice is in this large file. Executive Officer (panchayat secretary) responds with a written statement that he will not attend as there is no government order for him to do so.

February 4, 2011: Dhinkia sarpanch issues notice for calling of palli sabha meeting in Gobindpur. Copy of notice is in this large file.

February 10, 2011: Dhinkiia and Gobindapur Forest Rights Committees file formal complaintwith MoEF that the FRA process has not been completed in their area. The letter also includes signed affidavits from the Dhinkia sarpanch and the Gadkujang PS member as well as copies of the earlier February 2010 resolutions of the palli sabhas.

February 21, 2011: Dhinkia palli sabha convenes and passes unanimous resolution rejecting cosnent for diversion of forest land, asserting lack of implementation of FRA and rights under the Act. More than 70% of the village signs.

February 23, 2011: Gobindapur palli sabha convenes and passes unanimous resolution rejecting consent for diversion of forest land, asserting lack of implementation of FRA and rights unde the Act. More than 70% of the village signs.

March 10, 2011: Copies of resolutions forwarded to MoEF by PPSS on email.  Hard copies of full resolutions with all signatures are sent by registered post A/D to the Ministry.

April 11, 2011: Having heard nothing from MoEF on any of the issues raised by it, PPSS reiterates that any assurance from Orissa government will be false.

April 13, 2011: Orissa government sends “assurance” as requested by MoEF. Assurance repeats all claims earlier proved to be false by Enquiry Committee.

April 14, 2011: Ministry asks Orissa government to respond to resolutions of PPSS. Ignores all other issues raised by PPSS.

April 16, 2011: PPSS sends letter to Ministry pointing out that the April 14th decision is dodging the issue and by law the MInistry must withdraw the clearance. Also responds in detail to the April 14th assurance showing how it is false.

April 21, 2011: In response to press reports, PPSS sends letter to Ministry again enclosing evidence of the palli sabha resolutions being valid.

April 29, 2011: State government sends reply to April 14th order. Reply lies about signatures on palli sabha resolutions, tries to say that they are invalid.

May 2, 2011: Having managed to obtain a copy of the April 29th letter, PPSS sends final letter to Ministry demonstrating absurdity of State government’s claims.

May 2, 2011: A few hours later, ignoring all the evidence before it, the requirements of law and the letter of the Sangram Samiti, the MInistry lifts the stop work order on POSCO.