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The Odisha government's bid to hasten transfer of land originally acquired for Posco's mega steel mill near Paradip to JSW Steel has met opposition from earlier owners, protesting at the erection of a boundary wall.
The government acquired 2,700 acres in July 2013 for Posco's proposed 12-million tonne plant. Later, when Posco opted to surrender the lot, much of it forest land, Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Idco) decided to take it back into its land bank, with the government's agreement.
However, locals have petitioned the National Green Tribunal (NGT), alleging Idco diverted forest land for non-forest purposes. Prior consent, they contend, was not taken. That apart, Idco has de-reserved around 1,300 acres of forest land straddling six villages in the area. This violated the conditional Stage-II forest clearance granted for the Posco project. One of the conditions was that the legal status of forest land would remain the same even diverted for other purposes.
"It won't be easy for the government to transfer the land to JSW Steel. Dereservation of forest land is not legally tenable. People have gone to NGT, filing for individual and community forest rights," said an activist.
In response to the petition filed by the land losers, the NGT has give a notice to Idco, with the next hearing at its Kolkata bench on this Wednesday.
In the petition, the land losers allege the entire boundary wall construction is illegal as the forest clearance granted to Posco was project-specific. If the integrated steel plant does not come up, the clearance becomes invalid, they argued. Also, the construction violates Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, as no order of the state government has been issued for diverting forest land.
"We have no comments to offer on this matter," said a JSW Steel spokesperson. The company has committed an investment of Rs 50,000 crore on a 10-mt steel plant near Paradip. In its proposal to the state, it asked for transfer of all land parcels acquired for the Posco project. The company has pegged its total requirement for the project at 4,500 acres.