Posco's troubled steel plant in Orissa may have hit yet another roadblock, as the Orissa high court on Friday issued notices to the state and central governments and Posco India on a public interest litigation (PIL) alleging illegal forest clearance after final permission was granted to Posco for its plant in Jagatsinghpur district.
A division bench of chief justice V Gopal Gowda and justice B N Mohapatra issued the notices after preliminary hearing on the PIL and adjourned the matter for further hearing on 25 May.
Meanwhile, renewed land acquisition for the project has got off to a shaky start.
Ending a nine-month hiatus, the Orissa government on Wednesday resumed the acquisition process, obtaining around 1.5 acres from the possession of 11 betel vine farmers.
However, by Friday, agitators had set up a roadblock, while many villagers whose land was to be acquired did not turn up for identification.
The PIL has been filed by Nishakar Khatua and five others of Gobindapur village under Dhinkia panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district, where the proposed 12 million tonnes per annum steel plant is proposed to be set up.
They have stated that the forest clearance granted to the company has been done contrary to the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006.
Challenging several central and state government circulars and orders in favour of Posco, the petitioners have also questioned the actions of different departments of the Orissa government in the matter.
Submitting more than 25 annexures in the plea, the petitioners have listed the union ministries of environment and forests and tribal affairs, Posco, and six departments of the Orissa government as opposite parties. The high court has issued notices to all the opposite parties.
The petitioners claim that they are directly affected by the illegal order purporting to forest clearance and diversion of forest land to Posco as they belong to 'other forest dwellers' as per the Forest Rights Act.
The petition also claims that out of 1620.496 hectares of land earmarked for setting up the steel plant, about 1253.225 hectares is forest land, including 68.98 hectares of Jatadhar Reserve Forest, 1106.877 of Dhinkia-Nuagaon protected forest, 27.68 hectares of Noliasahi protected forest and 49.688 hectares of revenue forest.
''Around 74 per cent of the total land to be utilised for the proposed steel plant thus comes under the forests category and there are at least 3,578 families, including the petitioners are going to be affected in terms of livelihood for diversion of forest land and for displacement,'' the petition said.
The petition has urged the court to direct the state government not to take any coercive action using police to remove the petitioners from forest land under their occupation. It has also sought a direction to the state government to stop all work on the Posco project until disposal of the petition.
The centre had stopped land acquisition for the project on 5 August, 2010 over alleged forest law violations, but on 2 May union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh granted final clearance to Orissa for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land for the Korean steelmaker's facility, which promises to be the country's biggest foreign direct investment at $12 billion.