Posco, Vedanta, Similar Projects Still Illegal

Recently the press has been reporting that the Vedanta and POSCO projects in Orissa will now "go ahead." But, notwithstanding the Supreme Court order of August 8th, any move by the government to hand over forest lands in these areas to Vedanta or to POSCO will be a criminal offence and a flagrant violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The same is true of many other projects in forest areas. The Campaign condemns the continued silence of the government on this matter.

Section 4(5) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, states that no forest dweller can be removed from their lands until the process of recognition of rights is complete. Moreover, even after it is complete, those rights have to be respected - including community rights to traditional habitats and to community forest resources.

Many of the residents of the villages of Dhinkia, Gadkujang and Nuagaon in the POSCO area are Other Traditional Forest Dwellers within the meaning of the Forest Rights Act. The Dongaria Kondh community in the Sterlite / Vedanta area is classified as a "Primitive Tribal Group" (PTG) and are a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe. These communities have rights over the forest land and resources in this area under the Forest Rights Act, including not only their individual cultivation (in the case of the POSCO area) but also their rights to their traditional habitat and the forests protected by them. The Dongaria Kondhs, for instances, have protected and worshipped the Niyamgiri hill for centuries, and it forms part of their traditional habitat under section 3(1)(e) of the Act.

It is not as if this has not been brought to the government's attention. Shri Rahul Gandhi had visited the Dongaria Kondhs when on a "tour" aimed at promoting, among other things, the Forest Rights Act, and had committed to respecting their rights. In March of this year (and not after the Supreme Court verdict, contrary to the incorrect report in the Times of India), the gram sabhas in the POSCO area had passed resolutions warning the government that handing over the land would be a violation of the Forest Rights Act. In May, CPI leader D Raja had written to the Prime Minister pointing out this illegality.

If the Central government now brushes aside the law and tries to hand over these lands, or to hand over the forest lands sought by giant corporations throughout India, it will only demonstrate its utter hypocrisy and disregard for law. On the one hand, the UPA claims that it is committed to tribals and forest dwellers; on the other, it totally ignores the law when it is not convenient for vested interests. It is high time the government complied with both the spirit and letter of the Forest Rights Act.