Reading Jairam Ramesh
Madhuresh Kumar lists the many rights that have been done to posco and the congress
Union Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Jairam Ramesh said the following while giving the final forest clearance on May 2 to the Posco project: “I believe as a minister my responsibility is not just to do the right thing, but do the thing right”. What does he mean by this? Probably he means that law can be interpreted as per the need of the hour, as he says in the same order that the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) and the July 2009 guidelines are an evolving process. So, he chooses to accept Odisha’s contention that any forest rights claims in the two palli sabhas are non-existent. Then, does he imply that two of the MoEF’s own committees erred in saying categorically that forest rights claims do exist in the Dhinkia and Gobindpur Palli Sabhas, who submitted the Gram Sabha resolutions to the ministry on February 21 and 23, 2011. No. The claims exist, as the documents in possession of the villagers show, but they don’t matter since it is a part of the compromise worked out between the State and the union government.
|Illustration: Tim Tim Rose
The compromise means that Posco gets a green signal so that Odisha does not oppose Polavaram in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh, especially after the big ticket Niyamgiri mining project of Vedanta was denied clearance.
The clearance to Posco is important not only for Centre-State relations but also to keep the image of India alive as a favourable investment destination, since Posco is the largest FDI as of now, Rs 51,000 crore by 2005 prices. Nearly six years of delay in Posco and the cancellation of clearance to Vedanta has anyway dented the image. And further delay is bad for corporate investment. Hence, the Posco clearance is the right thing to do.
It can only be the right thing to respect the wishes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since he has already committed a clearance to the Korean President. It doesn’t matter if the Posco project violates the sovereign rights of other traditional forest dwellers and the people of Jagatsinghpur district.
The FRA preamble says it would undo the historical injustices being done to the forest-dwelling communities whose rights and claims have not been settled since the time the colonial government confined them to the forests. The sincerity and determination with which the environment minister has been following the implementation of the FRA shows how much of that historical injustice would be corrected. The idea appears to be to ensure that the FRA doesn’t become grounds for denial of forest clearance to Posco. Because then it would provide another tool to the social movements opposing corporate-driven projects across the country.
Ramesh patted himself for making public the memorandum and representation received from the Odisha government and the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) respectively as annexures with the final order. He believes it makes him and his ministry transparent but anyone who reads the documents along with the two committee reports can see the contradictions in Ramesh’s versions. These contradictions are somehow not visible to him. Putting things out in public doesn’t make things transparent. It is only the first step. The fact remains that he chose not to act on the facts presented to him. It is true that what the NC Saxena Committee said about the mining in Niyamgiri, in the report that became the basis for the scrapping of the project, had already been said in many reports but the government chose not to pay attention, unless it is suited them politically.
How can we miss the irony? The cancellation of the Niyamgiri project provided Rahul Gandhi with the epitaph Adivasiyon ka Sipahi (Soldier of Adivasis), which is required for the making of his image and also for the benefit of local Congress MP Bhakta Charan Das who runs an NGO called Green Kalahandi for the ‘upliftment’ and ‘empowerment’ of tribals. Unfortunately, the cancellation of the Posco project offers no such opportunity. Who gains if it gets cancelled? The PPSS—an outfit led by Abhay Sahoo, CPI State Committee member and an area already represented by Bibhu Prasad Tarai of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha. Politically, it is not right then and that is how Ramesh is doing the right thing now.
Not only have the violations of forest rights become a deciding factor but, as the majority report of the Neena Gupta Committee recommended, “In view of the glaring illegalities which render the clearances granted illegal, the EIA and CRZ clearances dated May 15, 2007, for the port, and the EIA clearance dated July 19, 2007, for the steel plant, should be revoked after following the due process of law.” It further added that, “the project proponent if it so desires may prepare a comprehensive EIA for both the port and the steel plant in accordance with the notifications now in force including the various component of the project such as rail and road transportation, pipeline, township, mining, etc., for the full capacity of the plant and its components.”
If Ramesh really wanted to do the right thing, he would have ordered a comprehensive EIA and not a piecemeal EIA for different segments of the project. It needs to be reiterated that the EIA clearance was granted by A Raja in the final hours before taking charge of telecom in 2007. The CBI is investigating the EIA clearances granted during his tenure as minister. So, how can it be the right thing to do when you do not call for a comprehensive EIA and merely impose additional conditions? It is known that these conditions are never complied with and the ministry does not have the capacity to monitor these in any case. So, they are only a part of the right things to do.
It is not right to undermine the representations made by local self governments over the assurances given by the Odisha Government by quoting the spirit of federalism. The right thing is to respect the will of people and their desire for a democratically planned development. It is not right to impose destruction in the name of development.It remains to be seen, how the ‘greenest of green’ signal granted to Posco will be implemented on the ground. Only time will tell who and what was right.
Madhuresh Kumar is National Organiser, National Alliance of People’s Movements, and is based in New Delhi.