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Plans to plunder

Print edition : Jul 29, 2005 T+T-

THE controversy over the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Orissa government and Pohang Steel Company (Posco) has brought to the fore issues concerning the future of mineral resources and the lakhs of people who would be affected by the rapid industrialisation that has begun in the State. The Naveen Patnaik government has already signed MoUs with 37 companies, including Posco. The total investment involved in all these projects is a whopping Rs.1,18,000 crores. The 37 proposed projects promise a production capacity of 47.7 million tonnes of steel per annum. This is more than the total annual production of steel in the country today. The volume is likely to increase as a few companies have decided to enhance the capacity of their proposed steel mills.

Moreover, several MoUs have been signed for setting up alumina refineries in the tribal-dominated and backward districts of Kalahandi, Rayagada and Koraput. There are proposals for establishing coal-fired power plants in the western parts of the State. Surprisingly, the State has not formulated a mineral policy since Independence and depends upon its industrial policy for distributing its mineral resources. Neither does it have a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation policy to take care of the displaced population. In the absence of a mining policy, successive governments have followed a pick and choose policy by showering undue favours on certain companies while granting mining lease.

Orissa enjoys a strategic position in mineral trading in the country. It possesses 32.9 per cent of the country's total iron ore, 59.95 per cent of bauxite, 98.4 per cent of strategic chromite, 24.8 per cent of coal and 67.6 per cent of manganese reserves. The authorities now say that the State government is in the process of formulating a mineral policy and a resettlement and rehabilitation policy. While the draft of the latter is ready, the other is being finalised. The majority of the projects are located in tribal areas that enjoy special constitutional protection since they have been declared Schedule V areas. However, the State government relaxed the clauses through a Cabinet resolution in 2003. Now, there is no hurdle for industrial houses that wish to set up a plant in tribal pockets. The only one thing they have to do is to get the permission of the village council. Civil society organisations are up in arms against the way permissions are obtained with the active interference of the administrative machinery.

But unrest is already building up at the ground level. The alumina project at Kashipur in Rayagada is facing trouble with the tribal people opposing it tooth and nail. Kalinganagar in Jajpur district is another area where new industries are facing opposition from the local people. The fate of the Vedanta aluminium project is hanging in the balance with public interest petitions pointing out the violations of forest and environmental laws. Opposition against displacement has started building up at Paradip too, the site of the proposed Posco steel plant. Thousands of people who are likely to be displaced by the project have announced their firm opposition to their dislocation.

The State government, which so far has been depending upon the police to help private companies gain control over the land allotted to them, is now planning to take action against the voluntary organisations that are helping people oppose different industrial projects. Although Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik constantly reminds private companies to take care of the environment, the situation remains different at the grassroots. As many as 60 polluting sponge iron units are operating in Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts violating all norms. The voices of opposition by environmentalists and tribal activists have not been taken seriously by the authorities so far. Can Orissa afford to exhaust all its mineral resources in a single generation and if yes, at what cost?

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