The union ministry for environment and forests has set up a four-member committee headed by retired environment secretary Meena Gupta to investigate if the Orissa government has complied with the Forest Rights Act of 2006 at the Posco site in Jagatsinghpura district of the state.
The ministry's decision comes a day after the state government began acquiring land falling in the proposed site despite the union government asking it to clarify the status on compliance with FRA which is a mandatory requirement for forest clearance. However, some observers say the ministry is trying to cover its tracks after it granted environmental clearance to the company on 1 January 2010 without any such proviso.
The government's current stand that environmental clearance for the $12 million steel project would require that FRA settlements are done first does not clarify completely the status of the environmental clearance already granted.
The other three members of the committee are Urmila Pingle, an anthropologist on the National Tiger Conservation Authority board, Devendra Pandey of the Forest Survey of India, and B Suresh, a lawyer in the Madras High Court who has worked on tribal issues before.
On 8 January, the ministry had asked the state government to confirm if it had settled the rights of the people in the 1,253.223 hectares of forest lands, as required under the FRA, before acquiring the land.
The state government replied in March claiming all the requirements of the FRA had been met. But the claims were disputed by many, including MPs,, with accusations of falsification of documents and faking village council approvals.