In a press meet held in Bhubaneswar on 5 April 2023, Prafulla Samantara (National Convenor, Lok Shakti Abhiyan), Prashanta Paik Ray (Spokesperson, Anti-POSCO & Anti-Jindal Movement) and Rabi Das, senior journalist strongly reiterated their earlier demand that both the government of Odisha and India must tender unconditional apology to the villagers in Dhinkia and withdraw the police force from those areas immediately.
On March 24, 2023, the Orissa High Court has stayed the process of land alienation for steel major Jindal Steel Works (JSW) Ltd’s ₹65,000 crore greenfield steel project in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha till the provisions under the Schedule Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 are complied with. The high court had directed the state government to move the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for compliance with regard to the rights of other traditional forest dwellers living in the area, where the steel project is proposed to be set up.
The court order came on a petition filed by the 24 petitioners belong to villages of Dhinkia, Mahala and Gobindpur of Dhinkia Gram Panchayat in Erasama block. They challenged the destruction of their betel vines asserting that it violated of the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. This claim is substantiated by the Survey of India map from 1928-1929, which depicts these villages as being situated adjacent to a “dense miscellaneous jungle” with cultivated plots and betel vine sheds scattered throughout the forested area.
Beside the High Court order, on March 20, 2023, The National Green Tribunal suspended the ECs (Environment Clearances) obtained by JSL due to lack of proper evaluation of sourcing water from river Mahanadi and public hearing before the social impact assessment study. NGT also ordered that the matter will need fresh appraisal by the Environment Appraisal Committee as well as a fresh decision by MoEF&CC within three months. It ordered that till such a decision, the ECs will remain suspended.
Despite the orders of the High Court and the NGT, brutal repression is continuing, and the Odisha police have turned 11 village of three Gram Panchayats (Dhinkia, Nuagan, Gadakujanga) in to an open house jail in the last 12 months. Amidst rampant arrests and targeting of activists, villagers are now fleeing the village in a bid to escape arrests.
A total of 451 cases have been filed against human rights defenders working to resist forcible displacement for the POSCO and JSW project . Debendra Swain, one of the leaders of the movement is still languishing in jail. Even today the Jindal company staff (Sajjan Jindal’s JSW), local Police administration have been cutting trees in the proposed Jindal steel plant, Cement Power Plant, captive Port project area and also outside the project area. They alleged that the Jindal staff and local administration with help of police have set the jungle on fire.
The activists put forward the following demands:
- The government should stop all types of repression on our people and withdraw all false and fabricated cases against our people.
- The government must also immediately stop the construction of a boundary wall around the land and allow our communities to access common lands that we have traditionally depended on for our livelihoods.
- Urgently process individual and community forest rights claims on land it had taken over for a POSCO project instead of transferring the land to a land bank.
- The government of Odisha must follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Singur issue in which the land of farmers bought for the Tata Nano plant was returned to them.
- The government needs to replant the trees in our sensitive coastal areas where more than two lakh trees were indiscriminately cut down by the government for POSCO.
- Proper and adequate Compensation should be paid by the government to the widows and children and the injured family members attacked by POSCO goons in the year 2008 and 2013.
The pdf of the press statement is attached below
Press Meet Dhinkia English (2)