Chapter 4 – Jal, Jangal, Zameen: People’s Struggle for a Clean Environment and Their Place in it

4.1  Introduction 117

The resistance to POSCO’s projects in Orissa has been centered mostly against the forcible acquisition of land by the government of Orissa for POSCO-India. The focus has been on the impact of the project on the homes, farms and livelihoods of the people- in short, on their very survival as individuals, families and communities. This has meant that several important issues, pertaining to the impacts on

  • communities outside of the immediate geographical area of the project (such as the impact on the availability of water for human consumption and irrigation),
  • marine and wild life (such as the impacts on endangered species such as Olive Ridley Turtles, Elephants, Tigers, Limbless Lizards, etc.)
  • riverine and coastal topography (such as the impact on Paradeep port of the silting and erosion that will be caused by POSCO’s port)
  • forests, including the depletion of forest cover in mining areas
  • impact on water bodies

have received lesser attention. However, many activists, environmentalists, independent groups,118 and members of the affected communities have investigated these larger environmental impacts, and have attempted to generate public discussion around their findings. While there exists substantial information about the potential impacts of POSCO’s projects on the coast, rivers and forest cover in the area, this report does not aim to compile an exhaustive list of such impacts. Rather, in the next two sections, we will (a) draw attention to some key environmental impacts and issues in the Jagatsinghpur and Keonjhar-Sundergarh areas, and (b) highlight problems in the environmental approval process which has failed to safeguard public interest. Overall, we point to the ways in which the POSCO project will not only adversely affect the physical environment, but also how it has failed to recognize the integral relationship that people have to the environment as a whole. By favoring the POSCO project, the Indian state has participated in denying the people of Jagatsinghpur and the Keonjhar-Sundergarh areas their basic human right- a right over their land, forests, and water- a significant component of their composite right to live.

4.2.  Environmental Impacts

4.2.1.  Impact on Availability and Quality of Water

According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by POSCO-India and the Govt. of Orissa, water supply for the projects will be routed from the Jobra Barrage that is fed by the upstream Hirakud Dam on the Mahanadi River. POSCO estimates that it will require 3.5 cubic meters of water per second for the steel plant, which works out to a total usage of approximately 7,000 crore litres per year for the plant alone (assuming that it functions for 18 hours per day, six days a week)119120. POSCO also plans to build a captive 1300-megawatt captive power plant although no data is currently available regarding how much water will be consumed by the same.

The 122.63 cusecs of water promised to POSCO is the highest volume of water ever allotted to any project in Orissa.121 This provision of water ignores popular struggles on the ground against any further reservation of water from the Hirakud dam for industrial uses. For example, the leaders of the Mahanadi Banchao Andolan (MBA),122 a popular movement, are demanding that the state government revoke its approval of water to POSCO. They cite growing pressure on the Hirakud dam, which is primarily meant for irrigation, and claim that further industrial use would lead to a water crisis downstream in the rural areas of Cuttack, Jajpur, Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur districts. Farmers from the villages in the command area of the Hirakud dam are already facing an acute shortage of water,123 and will be further affected by this diversion of water from agricultural to industrial use. The MBA is raising questions about the indirect economic costs of water usage by POSCO, including agricultural losses caused by i) shortage of water, ii) impact of water logging upstream (caused by the blocking of the Jatadhar river for port construction), iii) impact of increased salinity of the water (caused by dredging for the construction of the port).

The situation is likely to worsen given that the Government of Orissa has signed MoUs with 86 companies, of which 45 projects have been granted permission to draw water from rivers. This adds up to a total allotment of 1,214.26 cusecs of water from different river systems (namely, the Mahanadi, Brahmani and Baitarani rivers) for the setting up of steel, power, cement and aluminum projects.124 Certainly, the disproportionate diversion of water to industries has been exacerbated by the fact that currently there are no benchmarks limiting industrial water consumption.125  For example, the Special Economic Zone Act of 2005126 does not address the issue of access to water for SEZ projects. In practice, such a complete absence of guidelines and/or restrictions regarding the use of water unfortunately translates to a carte blanche being given to the developer, often with no subsequent oversight or regulation either.

Residents of the city of Cuttack who are wholly dependent on the Mahanadi for drinking water are also organizing as the “Cuttack Banchao Committee” (CBC),127 and claim that the river already suffers drastic reduction in carrying capacity from 630 feet to 617 feet due to heavy siltation128 over the years. The construction of nearly 30 dams and barrages over the Mahanadi, upstream in the state of Chhattisgarh, has also contributed to the lower storage capacity of the Hirakud dam. As a result, hydro-power generated from the dam has decreased from 240 MW to 90 MW.129 On July 1, 2010, members of CBC staged a protest opposing the deal with POSCO, and Subash Singh, the convener of CBC pointed out that in addition to Cuttack, the cities of Paradeep and Bhubaneshwar would also be affected by the water shortage.130

Following widespread protests, the govt. of Orissa asked POSCO in September 2010 to consider an alternative source of water, the Hansua River in Jagatsinghpur district. However, farmers from the area are claiming that the Hansua is not a river but a drainage channel which hundreds of farmers already rely upon for irrigation. Local organizations such as the Nab Nirman Krushak Sangthan and Ersama Ba Simiti (including elected officials such as Zilla Parishad member Sarada Jena) are organizing protest rallies against the allocation of water from the Hansua.131

Investigating Orissa’s “superflood” of 2008 (during which 19 of Orissa’s 30 districts were affected), researcher Ranjan Panda claims132 that while the Hirakud dam was originally conceived as a flood control measure on the Mahanadi, current priorities of providing irrigation, generating electricity, facilitating industrialization,133 etc. have led to changes in water management practices134 that have resulted in increased incidence of floods on the river.  Further, Bimal Pandia of Water Initiatives Orissa, a civil society group that works on water and climate change issues, argues that the goal of saving lives and property by preventing floods has become a lesser priority for the Orissa government than earning profits through the dam.

A second issue of concern is the pollution of water bodies from the release of industrial effluents, and from the proposed mining of iron ore in the districts of Sundergerh and Keonjhar in the Khandadhar region.135 The Khandadhar mountain range is the source of the river Baitarani as well as many streams, and another major river, the Brahmani, also flows through the area. The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), in its State of India’s Environment report, claims that “watersheds and rivers in Orissa” are “under threat”136 because of the impact of mining and industry, and in fact lists River Brahmani in Orissa as one of the 10 worst polluted rivers of India.

Previous mining in the Keonjhar area has already led to a decline of four meters in the underground water level in that area (as reported by the Central Underground Water Board).137 About forty percent of the region’s 8,000 tube wells do not work, and most of the irrigation in the area can no longer depend on water from the Khandadhar waterfalls.138 In fact, a report by Duskar Barik, a local activist in the Keonjhar region claims that almost all perennial streams in the mining area of Keonjhar district are dead.139 This is because the mining companies consider the origins of natural and perennial streams as perfect for extracting good quality iron ore, and that, in turn, has led to the death of these streams. According to Barik, “In the Gandhamardan Hill range eight perennial streams have been killed by the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) and its sub-contractor Jyoti Construction Ltd. by mining on their origins”, and this has affected at least 9 villages in the Keonjhar area.140

The origin of Brahmani river, which is a sacred place for the local Adivasis, has also been affected by the mining by Jyoti construction Ltd. Since the people in the area primarily survive on agriculture that is dependent on the rivers and streams for irrigation, the destruction of these water bodies has substantial destructive impact on the livelihood of the people. In short, further mining in the area would lead to the complete drying up of the main water bodies.

Civil society groups, along with political parties and environmentalists are now demanding that the govt. set up a water commission for a hydrological study of the rivers Mahanadi, Birupa, and its tributaries, which will investigate the impact of high rates of water withdrawal, and are insisting that the government withhold any further allocation of water to industries.

4.2.2.  Impact on Coastal Topography and Continued Viability of the Paradeep Port

The construction of POSCO’s captive port will be accompanied by the construction of a steel plant, a power plant, two townships, railway lines, highways, an 86km-long water pipeline, etc., all in the same vicinity, and which will have cumulative negative impacts on the local environment. Researchers Rodriguez and Sridhar141 claim that port-related activities such as dredging, construction work, landfills, discharges from ships and waterfront industries, cargo operations, etc. will have potential adverse effects including “…water pollution, contamination of bottom sediments, loss of bottom habitat, current pattern changes, waste disposal, oil leakage and spillage, hazardous material emissions, air pollution, noise, vibration, light and visual pollution”.142

One of the most alarming effects, it appears, is that the publicly-owned Paradeep port will become untenable directly as a result of the construction of POSCO’s captive port. This is a consequence of shifts that will take place in the coastal topography owing to interferences to littoral drift, a geological process by which sediments move along a beach shore. The large littoral drift in the east coast of India is said to be one of the highest amongst the world’s coastlines,143 and the construction of coastal engineering structures such as port berths, terminals, breakwaters, etc. would obstruct littoral drift.144 The effect of the obstruction of littoral drift is multiplied when a port is situated, as in the case of the POSCO port, on the shoreline or a river mouth, such that the movement of river sediment is also blocked. This blockage would cause areas north of the river mouth to become sediment-starved, and those areas would eventually recede through erosion. Thus, the construction of the POSCO port would directly impact the stability of the shoreline, and given the proximity of the Paradeep port (12 kms. north of the POSCO port site), it is likely that the northward erosion would cause a gradual submergence of Paradeep port into the Bay of Bengal.

A study by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) has attributed the progressive loss of nesting beach areas in the Gahirmatha Sanctuary over the last three decades to the establishment of Paradeep port in 1966. Activist Biswajit Mohanty cites this study to argue against POSCO’s port- the construction of this new port will not only lead to faster erosion of the Gahirmatha beaches, but, “…in addition, Paradeep port could also be completely eaten away by sea currents”.145 The vice-chairman of the Paradeep Port Trust, Subrata Tripathy, also wrote to the central government objecting to the project on the grounds that POSCO’s port at Jatadhar would cause erosion and affect the navigability of Paradeep Port.146 It is also important to note that Mr. T. R. Baalu, who was the Union Shipping Minister when the POSCO MoU was signed in 2005, had also expressed apprehensions, during Lok Sabha Proceedings, that the new port is likely to affect the Paradeep port and that it would be preferable to upgrade the Paradeep port instead of constructing a second port in such close proximity.147 148

The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) for the Port suggests periodic “beach nourishment”149 to ameliorate the problem of erosion, but it is not clear whose responsibility these mitigation measures would be.150 The REIA proposes neither a budget nor a timeline for the same, and it also does not clarify which agency would enforce or monitor the performance of such mitigation measures.

That there has been little public discussion of the effect on Paradeep port is an unfortunate testament to the failures of existing regulatory bodies in safeguarding public interest. Not only is there an absence of public debate, it also appears that there is no communication or coordination amongst various arms of the government on this issue. For example, a study in 2009 by the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management (ICMAM) of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) claims that coastal structures constructed for port operation are a major cause of anthropogenic coastal erosion. One of the main recommendations of this study (which was in fact commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests [MoEF]) was that location of ports should be avoided for 10 kms. on either side of ecologically sensitive areas. However, the MoEF’s subsequent report directly contradicts the MoES’s recommendations. Such is the disconnect that Rodriguez and Sridhar describe the MoES and the MoEF as inhabiting “independent universes”.151

Further, the MoEF’s policy of port development is centered only on one environmental concern (amongst many possible others), namely, shoreline erosion, and it also ignores the fact that impacts on shoreline subsequently translate to impacts on livelihoods. As a result, the MoEF’s policy fails to address social factors such as problems faced by local communities including restrictions on fisher folks’ access to fishing grounds around a port, lack of access to the beach, the sea, and finally, displacement of communities from the project site.

While various environmental concerns recommend against the construction of POSCO’s captive port, it is also not clear that a new port is in fact needed, given that the existing Paradeep Port can meet the needs of the POSCO project. Currently, Paradeep port has the capacity to handle 76 million tonnes of cargo, and the Port Record Traffic for 2009-2010 is at 57.01 million tonnes, an increase over the 46.41 tonnes handled in 2008-09.152 Expansion plans are also being aggressively pursued to increase the capacity of the port to more than 135 million tonnes by 2013-14.153 Therefore, it appears that it is well within the capacity of the Paradeep port’s infrastructure to handle the additional traffic of 13 million tones that will potentially result from POSCO. Specifically on the issue of competition between ports, some experts154 consider ports “natural monopolies”, and believe that competition will lead to a stabilization of the market such that some ports will “die” naturally. But “dead” ports will still have permanent and irreversible negative social and environmental costs.

Given the economic and environmental costs, it seems inadvisable to build a second port at just 12 kms. distance from an existing one (apart from the fact that the new port will cause a loss of revenue for the Paradeep Port Trust).155 It must be noted that in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, following a decision that no two ports should be located within a vicinity of 50 Kms., the  government shelved the construction of a private port at Mutyalammapalem, in favor of expansion of the currently existing Gangavaram Port.156

4.2.3.  Impact on Forest Cover and Resulting Effects on the Lives of Local Adivasis

The setting up of POSCO’s steel plant and captive port require a diversion of 1253.255 ha of forest land for non-forest use, and the felling of about 280,000 trees. As discussed in chapter 2, the process of granting forest clearances to POSCO was highly problematic and violated the rights of forest dwellers as enshrined in the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The proposed mining site is located in the forest-rich Khandadhar Hills that sustains the Paudi Bhuiyan tribal communities, and which also has spiritual and religious significance for them.157

In 2003, Orissa had a recorded forest area of 4.84 million hectares, which amounts to a decrease of about a million hectares since 1999.158 This decrease can be attributed to the performance of mining activities in close proximity to the forest areas. The Keonjhar area, particularly the Joda-Badabil belt has been the focus of mining since the 1950s, and a study of two blocks in the area indicates that there has been a decline in the vegetative cover, such that between 1989 and 2004, 13.4 square kilometers of its vegetative cover have been taken over by mining activity.159 In addition, Sahu notes that almost 33,000 hectares of forest cover have disappeared from the Keonjhar (or Kendujhar as Sahu calls it) district thanks to the decades of mining activities.160 Since studies show that about 25 to 60% of the sustenance of the inhabitants (including Paudi Bhuiyans and Juang) comes from the forest, the reduction of the vegetative and forest cover has disastrous consequences for the people.161 However, despite such clear evidence and examples of the deterioration of the local environment and its subsequent effect on local residents, no comprehensive study has thus far been conducted of the environmental, social and economic effects of mining in the Khandadhar region as a whole.

In addition, when the forest department does take up compensatory afforestation, they have planted trees that are completely out of line with the traditional trees of these forests. Compensatory afforestation is being taken up in lands ravaged by mining, but also to increase forest cover in the form of “plantations” that would attract international carbon traders. For the latter, the forest department is deliberately replacing the indigenous varieties by commercially desirable ones by identifying certain forest areas as degraded.162 As Padu Juang from Nadam village in Keonjhar district puts it: “Why is the forest department cutting down trees such as sal, piasal, mohua, asan, etc., which are precious to the livelihoods of the natives and their livestock, and planting useless trees like acasia, eucalyptus, teak, simbarua, chakunda, etc.? If such plantation continues, we will soon be pushed into great hardship. The soil will degrade, and our food security will be at risk.”163 The forests in the Sundergerh area also have medicinal plants such as bhui nimbal (Andrographis paniculata), patal garuda (Rauvolfia serpentina and wild tulsi (Occimum canum) that are also adversely affected by the mining activities. Thus mining not only affects the traditional forest cover but also allows the state to decide the nature of trees to be planted in the compensatory afforestation program. Such tree planting efforts are often incompatible with the interests of the people living in the forest, and are in fact detrimental to the ecological balance of the area.

4.2.4.  Impacts on Marine Life and Wildlife

As noted in the discussion about livelihoods, the estuaries of Rivers Devi and Jatadhar and the coastal areas of this region are extremely productive and yield a comfortable livelihood for the local farming and fishing communities. The fertility of the land and the abundance of marine life in this region are the direct results of the alluvial sediment and nutrients brought in by the rivers, and one of the main harmful impacts is that the blocking the Jatadhar River would impoverish the ecosystem of the estuary. This damage to marine ecology would in turn affect the local fishing economy by depleting fish stock in the area.

Secondly, construction of the new port will ravage sand dunes almost six meters high which are the breeding, spawning and foraging grounds of several fish species, including the endangered Olive Ridley marine turtles (a protected species under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1991) and other marine mammals such as dolphins. The mouth of the Devi River is one of a handful of sites around the world where mass-nesting by Olive Ridley turtles has been observed.

Similarly, the Khandadhar forest is a habitat for a range of animals such as tigers (including the Royal Bengal Tiger), leopards, sloth bears, elephants, gaur, etc.164 Recently, researchers from Vasundhara, an environmental advocacy group, have also found evidence of limbless lizards- a keystone species165 that prefers dark forests- in this area that is already inhabited by other rare reptiles such as the double-nosed snake.166 The Hadgad forest and Hill range in Keonjhar are also a part of a Wild Life Sanctuary and are connected with Similipal National Park that is famous for its elephants. The forest area is also the route for elephants that migrate from the adjoining Saranda forests of Bihar. However, since the forest cover has been affected by the mining in that area, the elephants have been coming out of their natural habitat and damaging crops, destroying houses, and injuring people. Barik writes that about 25 people, mostly Adivasis, were killed during the 2000-2003 period in the Keonjhar area.167 Thus the mining and consequent destruction of the forests and water bodies is not only impacting the natural habitat of the animals and marine life, it is also impacting their relationship with the people living around them, and the ecosystem as a whole.

4.2.5.  Impacts on Public Health Due to Mining

Since mines often affect water bodies by creating standing pools of water or by altering the course of the streams, diseases such as Malaria have been observed in areas close to mining areas in the Keonjhar area.168 In addition, long-term mining and industries have led to the air becoming extremely polluted such that local Adivasis are being affected by air-borne diseases. According to Duskar Barik, a local activist in the Keonjhar area, the laborers claim that their life expectancy has declined by about 50%, many dying before the age of 40.169 In addition, the blasts in the mines are very close to the habitat (sometimes half a kilometer) affecting domestic animals and people living in the area and choking up their respiratory systems. Diseases such as Tuberculosis and Malaria are very common in the area, and have been made worse by the proximity to red water and black dust. Even though POSCO’s mining is supposed to be restricted to an area of 6204 hectares, Das and Pratap point out that a large part of the adjoining areas will be affected by the environmental pollution.170 In fact, Das and Pratap in their study of the Khandadhar falls region note that  the air is already polluted due to the particulate matter and oxides of sulphur and nitrate emerging from the existing mining in the upper Khandadhar region, and from the sponge iron plants.171 Residents in the vicinity of the sponge iron plants are also reporting irritation and itching in the eyes. There is also fly ash (particles that emerge when coal is burnt) on the agricultural products and the forest cover. OMC has also dumped its mining overburden (undesirable upper layers) into the Uskala stream at Kukurpeta village which has turned the water red, and rendered it unfit for irrigation and human consumption. The mining overburden is affecting other streams as well.172 Since the POSCO mining area is supposed to be right above the falls, which is the source of the main river, there is legitimate fear that the mining would pollute the water bodies in that entire region.

4.3  Description and Critique of the Environmental Clearance Process

The approval of industrial and infrastructural projects in India proceeds through layers of clearances designed to ensure that the project meets existing laws and guidelines regarding the protection of human and environmental welfare. One of the key documents in this process is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification.173 After the EIA document is made available to the public, a Public Hearing must be held so that the local community can provide feedback regarding the project.

Summaries of the EIA report and the proceedings of the public hearing are then to be presented to a central committee, based upon which a decision is made about granting the final clearance to the project. Unfortunately, in the case of the POSCO project, all three crucial stages of the approval process, through which the public exercises its rights to consultation and informed consent, were compromised in various ways. So vast a project as POSCO strains the less-than-coherent institutional framework for protection of public interest, and provides particular insight into the breakdowns and internal contradictions of India’s democratic processes.

4.3.1.  Environmental Impact Assessment Notification

The POSCO project is the largest instance of foreign direct investment in India to date. However, when it came to the environmental clearance process, the project was disarticulated into several smaller parts (such as the steel plant, the port, the mines, etc.). This kind of piecemeal treatment has the effect of obscuring the overall impact of the project, resulting in a lack of understanding on the part of the public as to the cumulative effects of the totality of the project. Two separate EIAs were produced for the port and the steel plant, by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO)174 and M.N. Dastur and Co. (a private consulting company),175 respectively. Both of these were Rapid EIAs (REIAs), although the legal requirement under the EIA Notification, 2006, and the global best practice is the performance of a comprehensive EIA.

Various groups, including the CSE176 and Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide177 have evaluated these REIAs and have identified a series of gaps and lapses. In an illustrative example, the REIA for the steel plant merely mentions the subject of waste disposal from the plant, and does not provide information about the nature of the waste materials, the location where they will be dumped, the operation standards by which the wastes will be disposed, or the impact of the wastes on ground and ambient air pollution. Further, the REIA for the steel plant does not include a description of the 87 km. pipeline that will bring water from the Jobra barrage to the steel plant, and fails to account for the impact of the same.

The REIA for the Port also does not discuss socio-economic impacts of the construction of the port, but limits itself strictly to a discussion of technical data about ocean currents, mortality rates of phytoplankton, etc. Further, the data that is presented is not situated in any comparative context or framework such that members of the public are able to either understand the impact of the project, or evaluate the desirability of it. Such abstracted presentations of technical data, when unaccompanied by explanations and/or benchmarking of information, work to delimit the audience of the report to other experts, and work against public participation in the project approval process.

In objections filed before the Orissa State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB), urging it to reject the REIA for the port, Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa, notes that the REIA does not contain any data on the abundance of Olive Ridley Turtle populations and their dynamics, or of the likely impacts of shipping traffic, oil spillages and other marine pollution on the turtles and their nesting and feeding activities.

The clearance granted to POSCO’s captive Port also violates the CRZ Notification of 1991 which protects fish breeding grounds by classifying them as CRZ-1, i.e. “ecologically sensitive areas”. But given that stakeholders in coastal areas, including fishing communities, do not enjoy any formal recognition of their rights in the management and protection of the coasts as well as the right to coastal spaces,178 their views and interests are often neglected in the clearance process. The weak enforcement of the CRZ is also a result of the fact that there are no clear ownership or land rights of fishing communities.

Being “Rapid”-EIAs, the two REIAs are also based on data from just one season as opposed to a comprehensive EIA that needs to include data from three seasons. The REIAs are thus incomplete and have poor ecological data.  According to researcher Aarti Sridhar,179 the reason for the absence of benchmarking data in EIAs is that, often, no such baseline data exists as yet for Indian environmental contexts. This is troubling because it suggests that historically, recommendations that have been made in various EIAs for different projects, and clearances issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), etc. are often executed in the absence of any real ability to determine the actual potential for harm. Such an approach violates the precautionary principle180 laid down by the Supreme Court of India, which states “where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation”.181 The court also held that it might be appropriate to place the burden of proof on the person proposing the potentially harmful activity in question. The POSCO project should be denied environmental clearance, given that it has thus far been unable to provide evidence that invalidates this precautionary principle.

The granting of forest clearance to the steel plant was also problematic in that it was approved based on an aerial survey. The government had to resort to an aerial survey owing to the local residents’ fierce opposition to the project, to the extent where the villagers had barricaded entire villages and refused entry to survey officials. According to Biswajit Mohanty of Wildlife Society of Orissa, who learnt about the aerial survey in response to a Right to Information application, “The POSCO forest clearance must be the first case in the history of MoEF where the proposal was cleared without verification of the forest cover on the ground. The Regional CCF of MoEF clearly mentions in his note that he could only verify the forest land from the helicopter since the law and order situation did not allow him to carry out ground verification.”182

The CSE claims, more broadly, that there are several instances where EIAs have been found to have “glaring and intentional omissions, and where the authenticity of the report is in doubt”.183 Certainly, the mines in Keonjhar have not been discussed in any of the EIAs or other statements about the project, although they were such an important part of the overall project that POSCO had made its own participation in it conditional to being awarded a mining contract in Keonjhar.

The CSE concludes, as have many activists on the ground, that “poor EIA reports” are “one of the biggest drawbacks of the current environmental clearance process”.184 Rodriguez and Sridhar also note the poor quality of past EIAs for Port projects, and ascribe this to the fact that no sector-specific guidelines exist for EIAs for ports. Further, they add that even at the state level, planning and due diligence is inadequate and ad-hoc.185 It is therefore not surprising to see the CSE conclude that “EIA reports of some of the major projects in Orissa leave a lot to be desired”.186

It appears that EIAs such as the above issue from a mechanistic understanding of the environment as an accretion of discrete physical elements like air, water, etc. although the MoEF’s manual about EIAs requires in fact that descriptions of socio-economic impacts on people should also be included. It unfortunately appears that most EIAs today are perceived to be lists of data rather than being documents that put human beings at the center of the environment, and which understand man-made environmental degradation through the language of human rights, including a broader understanding on human rights that includes social, economic and cultural rights of the project-affected people.

4.3.2.  Public Hearing Process

The Government of Orissa’s promise in the MoU to “facilitate” POSCO’s projects dispenses with even an appearance of public consultation, and simply presumes public consent to the project. Although public participation in the environmental clearance process is confined only to the period that immediately precedes the granting of the final clearance to the project, Public Hearings are a crucial mechanism through which the public can address socio-economic and other concerns. However, given the larger political and media environment, and a socio-economic context where the apparent beneficiaries of the project are excluded from participation in public deliberation either due to lack of access to the fora of such deliberations, or owing to the barriers of language, as well as the deliberate disregard of such input (when offered), the public hearing provision is one of the weakest elements of the EIA process. In fact, it is extremely rare that a project is rejected based upon the findings of public hearings.

A joint public hearing for the captive port and the steel plant projects was held on April 15, 2007, at a high school in Kujanga Block which is nearly 20 kms. away from the project-affected Panchayats of Gada Kujanga, Dhinkia and Nuagaon. In the weeks leading up to the public hearing, the government deployed 12 platoons of paramilitary forces187 which staged a flag-march in the area on 9 April. Local188, national189 and international190 groups filed written objections about the atmosphere of intimidation caused by the state’s use of paramilitary forces, and also pointed out that placing the public hearing outside of the project site discouraged participation by affected villagers in multiple ways. For one, the distance would impose costs of commuting on the villagers and deter participation. Secondly, the time required for the commute to the venue would also dampen participation as it would necessitate a whole day’s absence from work, and cause loss of revenue to them.

Environmental activist Prafulla Samantra also noted in his submission that Kujanga was known to be a stronghold of the ruling BJD party (which is actively supporting the project),191 and that the presence of BJD supporters at the hearing would create a hostile environment for the villagers that wished to offer testimony opposing the project. Observers at the Public Hearing192 note that POSCO company officials were seated on the stage along with government officials that were conducting the hearing. Not only is such an arrangement a direct violation of EIA guidelines regarding Public Hearings, it also offers us a symbolic as well as a literal representation of a state of affairs where the state has abandoned its role as a champion of public interest, but is instead actively promoting particular corporate interests. It is also evident that such an arrangement would have demonstrated to the local community their own position relative to that of POSCO officials, and that it would have had a chilling effect on testimonials that opposed the project.

Following the public hearing on April 15, 2007, and the publication of draft proceedings of the hearing three days later on April 18th, the villagers of three Panchayats- Dhinkia, Gada Kujanga and Nuagaon -wrote a letter193 on April 25th, 2007, to the Ministry of Environment and Forests documenting numerous violations of the requirements of a public hearing (as required by the EIA Notification, 2006) by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB). Summaries of all the violations listed in their letter are reproduced below because of the gravity of the violations which include falsification of data in the EIAs, multiple breaches of the law by the authorities, willful misrepresentation of the proceedings, etc.

  1. The OSPCB had commissioned a Rapid EIA while the law clearly states that a Comprehensive EIA is needed.
  2. POSCO had falsified its field reports by claiming that groups of surveyors had gone from house to house in 63 affected villages for conducting a sample survey, and that they had held Focus Group Discussions in each such village in the presence of village heads, Panchayat functionaries, Anganwadi workers and voluntary workers. However, this survey data was entirely concocted, and neither surveys nor focus groups discussions were held in any of the 63 villages.
  3. The proceedings of Public Hearing circulated by OSPCB contains several gross omissions and commissions, such that individual testimonies that objected to the project are misrepresented as having consented to the project, while other testimonials that were critical of the project are missing entirely from the proceedings.
  4. The OSPCB withheld the Executive Summary of the REIA Report, despite repeated requests, from the three Gram Panchayats of the affected area, although the law requires that the document be openly circulated before a public hearing.
  5. The OSPCB did not include any of the written comments it had received during the public hearing process in the Proceedings, although it is required by law to do the same.
  6. The POSCO REIA Report about the steel plant doesn’t follow the prescribed format in that it fails to identify the personnel involved.  This includes missing information about the names or qualifications of the surveyors that are supposed to have visited the 63 villages. Had POSCO listed the personnel, then its claims that surveys were conducted could have been verified for accuracy.
  7. OSPCB’s choice of venue for the public hearing is unacceptable in that it is situated about 15-20 kms. away from the project site, while the law requires that the public hearing be held on the project site or in its close proximity.
  8. Women activists were not allowed to speak and their written submissions were not recorded in the proceedings.
  9. The EIA Notification, 2006, clearly requires that a Public Hearing must include a discussion of the environmental as well as the social impacts of a project. Despite this, villagers that attempted to describe the social costs of displacement to their family and their communities were cut short by the Chair, Mr. Dillip Kumar Mohanty, and were admonished to limit their testimonies to discussions of impacts on the natural environment. Further, Dr.Rout, a scientist who represented the OSPCB, and was present at the hearing in his capacity as an expert on what constituted environmental impacts, chose to remain silent and quiescent while Mr.Mohanty offered inaccurate and distorted definitions of the same.
  10. As per the law, two separate Public Hearings must be held for separate projects, but only one joint hearing was held for the construction of the captive port and the steel plant.
  11. The law requires that the EIA Report include the Terms of Reference in the report itself. Without such benchmarking data, it is not possible for citizens to evaluate the data or understand the assessment in any meaningful way. The REIA for the POSCO project does not include such benchmarking data.
  12. The law requires that the original application by POSCO for environmental clearance should be disclosed. However, the OSPCB has not disclosed the application. Moreover, the MoEF also has not noted this crucial omission on the part of the OSPCB.

The villagers are demanding separate, comprehensive EIAs for each of the proposed projects by POSCO (such as the Steel Plant, the Port, Mines, the Railway line, the Highway, and the 86km-long water pipeline from Cuttack to the steel plant), and that these EIAs should be openly discussed at separate public hearings for each of the projects. As clarified by the MoEF’s own circular,194 every project must have a separate Public Hearing. The High Court of Delhi in fact states categorically195 “…there is no question of scheduling several hearings relating to different projects at the same date, time and venue. This can possibly result in avoidable chaos at such hearings. It also reduces the whole exercise to empty formality”.

Despite the detailed critiques of the REIAs and the Public Hearing process that were presented by the members of the community both at the hearings and after it, the MoEF granted final clearance to the port and the steel plant in May and June 2007, respectively. Thus, the environmental clearance process failed to capture and respond to public concerns about the project.

Apart from the procedural irregularities in the EIA process, and the intimidation and exclusions visible in the public hearing process, the very conceptualization of the project is of enormous environmental concern. All the different activities associated with the project- the construction and operation of the steel plant, mining for iron ore, building the port- will adversely affect various water bodies, result in massive deforestation, and threaten the existence of the rich flora and fauna in the area. Indigenous trees such as sal, piasal, mohu, etc. and rare species such as limbless lizards, double-nosed snakes, elephants, etc. (in forest areas), and the Olive Ridley marine turtles (in the port area) are in serious danger. The construction of a new port close to the Paradeep port may make the current functional port untenable, and will also affect the fertility of the land and the productivity of the fishing communities. In sum, the proposed project by POSCO has a basic flaw: it denies the people of Jagatsinghpur and Khandadhar regions the right to determine their own relationship to their land, forests, and water bodies.

  1. Jal, Jangal, Zameen translates as “water, forest, land”. It refers to people’s demands for control over local resources and is a popular rallying cry of people’s movements in India. []
  2. These include New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, Sudarshan Rodriguez, Aarti Sridhar and others from the environmental advocacy group Dakshin, Ashish Kothari, Kanchi Kohli, Manju Menon and others from the Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, Biswajit Mohanty from the Wildlife Society of Orissa who is the coordinator of “Operation Kachhapa”, an ambitious sea turtle conservation program, independent researcher and activist Manshi Asher, etc. []
  3. Data compiled by Shankar Gopalakrishnan []
  4. Prof. Kundan Kumar estimates that if the steel plant were to run for 24 hours a day (instead of 18 hours a day), then the usage of water would amount to 12,000 crore litres. []
  5. State allots 1,214.26 cusecs of water to industries, The Hindu, June 29, 2010 []
  6. “Mahanadi Banchao Andolan” can be translated as “Save the Mahanadi Struggle” []
  7. Orissa: Miners’ Paradise, by Nachiketa Desai []
  8. State allots 1,214.26 cusecs of water to industries, The Hindu, June 29, 2010 []
  9. The SEZ threat to water and food security, A publication of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People (SANDRP), April 2007. []
  10. See earlier discussion in chapter 2 about the preeminent place occupied by SEZs in the government’s development schemes. []
  11. “Cuttack Banchao Committee” translates as “Save Cuttack Committee”. []
  12. Mahanadi crusaders seek panel, The Telegraph, July 19, 2010 []
  13. Pressure mounts on Naveen to stop water supply to industries from Mahanadi”, The Economic Times, July 18, 2010 []
  14. No signs of Maoists in the POSCO agitation yet”,  June 03, 2010. []
  15. Farmers oppose plan to supply Hansua river water to Posco, Business Standard, September 25, 2010 []
  16. Hirakud dam causing rather than preventing Orissa floods? by Ranjan K Panda, October 2008 []
  17. Panda (ibid) quotes the original project report for the dam which read: “The aim of the Hirakud dam is primarily flood control; irrigation and power-generation are incidental.” []
  18. Panda’s article (ibid) contains a detailed discussion of the changes in the “rule curve” (which dictates water storage levels) that has led to maintaining higher levels of water in the dam resulting in greater risks of flooding downstream of the dam. []
  19. The High Court of Orissa has recently struck down the mining clearance given by the Orissa government to POSCO on the basis of the GoO’s giving preference to POSCO against other companies. Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, it is important to point to the possible environmental impacts of the proposed mining on the area and the people of this region. []
  20. Centre for Science and Environment, 2008. Rich Lands, Poor People- Is Sustainable Mining Possible? Page 247. []
  21. Quoted in “POSCO: Tribal Dispossession, Environmental Destruction and Imperialism”, Analytical Monthly Review, February 2, 2010. []
  22. Ibid. []
  23. Duskar Barik. Study on Mining Operation in Keonjhar District, Orissa. By Keonjhar Integrated Rural Development & Training Institute, (KIRDTI), 2008.  p.10. []
  24. Ibid, p. 10. []
  25. Rodriguez. S. and A. Sridhar. 2010. Harbouring Trouble: The social and environmental upshot of Port Growth in India. Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore. []
  26. Ibid, page 23 []
  27. Ibid, page 25 []
  28. Ibid, page 26 []
  29. POSCO’s port project ‘will affect turtle nesting’, The Hindu Business Line, December 25, 2005 []
  30. Posco wants to build captive port in Orissa, February 1, 2006 []
  31. POSCO’s port project ‘will affect turtle nesting’, The Hindu Business Line, December 25, 2005 []
  32. Posco insists on captive port, Centre unhappy, Business Standard, December 28, 2005 []
  33. “Beach nourishment”, also referred to as beach replenishment is typically part of a larger coastal defense scheme, and refers to a process by which sediment (usually sand) lost through longshore drift or erosion is replaced from sources outside of the eroding beach. It involves transporting and depositing sand from elsewhere to the depleted area. Nourishment is typically a repetitive process, since nourished beaches tend to erode faster than natural beaches unless nourishment is complemented by measures to reduce erosion rates. []
  34. The REIA was a common practice under the EIA notification of 1994 which has now been superseded by the EIA Notification of 2006. []
  35. Rodriguez. S. and A. Sridhar. 2010. Harbouring Trouble: The social and environmental upshot of Port Growth in India. Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore. page 46 []
  36. Paradeep port handled record traffic in 2009-10, Indo-Asian News Service, April 7, 2010 []
  37. See Paradeep Port Multi-purpose berth construction to be completed by 2012 []
  38. Consultant S.N.Srikanth of Hauer Associates, as quoted in Rodriguez. S. and A. Sridhar. 2010. Harbouring Trouble: The social and environmental upshot of Port Growth in India. Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore. []
  39. The Paradeep port is one of several other public utilities that will incur losses along with the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL), a public sector undertaking, which was earlier given the mines that have now been promised to POSCO. Following a legal challenge by KIOCL, the high court of Orissa has struck down the mining license given to POSCO. []
  40. SAIL’s captive port plan is a matter for debate, The Hindu, July 23, 2010 []
  41. The name Khandadhar in popular lore emerges from a story from Mahabharat where Arjun is said to have created a stream by striking a large tree with an arrow when Draupadi was thirsty. (dhar-stream created by khanda or rupture of a stone). Due to its spiritual significance, the forest had been protected from mining right uptil 1966 when Orissa Mining Corporation got its first lease and initiated this spurt of mining. Das and Pratap, 2008. []
  42. 600 households (2 blocks) in twenty villages of the Joda-Badabil mining area of the Keonjhar district were studied. Erin Sills, Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, Shubhayu Saha, Jui-Chen Yang, Pravash Sahu and Ashok Singha. “The Mine over matter? Health, wealth, and forests in a mining area of Orissa”, henceforth, Sills et al. Paper presented at the International Conference on Comparative Development, Delhi, 2007. []
  43. Ibid. []
  44. Treasure hunt in the Kendujhar forests, Infochange, August 2010 []
  45. Vasundhara, a research and advocacy group that works on issues of environmental conservation and sustainable development reports that 30 to 40% of annual income of marginal sections comes from forest. quoted in Kumar Abhishek Pratap and Tanushree Das, Khandadhar, Life-line of Northern Orissa (Mining and Related Policies/ Programs as the Underlying Cause of Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in Nought without Cause, National Workshop on Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation in India (26 to 28 January 2008). []
  46. Sahu, 2010. []
  47. Ibid. []
  48. According to researchers Pratap and Das, “the presence of the Royal Bengal Tiger is mentioned in the working plan of Bonai Forest Division of Sundergerh district. Das and Pratap, 2008. []
  49. A keystone species is a species that plays a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community and whose impact on the community is greater than would be expected based on its relative abundance or total biomass. []
  50. Vasundhara Report quoted in ibid. []
  51. Barik, 2008, p. 10. []
  52. Sills et al. []
  53. Barik, 2008. []
  54. Das and Pratap, 2008. []
  55. Ibid. []
  56. Ibid. []
  57. Currently, the conducting of the EIA is contracted to a third-party agency. In some instances, the same agency is also entrusted with the job of helping the project proponent to acquire the clearance, which clearly creates a conflict of interest in that the agency conducting the EIA has a vested interest in underreporting potential problems with the project. Environmental activists in India have long campaigned for the establishment of an independent fund that would administer the EIA, but unfortunately this was not provided when the EIA Notification process was overhauled in 2006. []
  58. National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. Rapid Marine environmental Impact Assessment for setting up of a captive minor port at Jatadharmohan Creek Near Paradeep in Orissa. March 2006. []
  59. M.N. Dastur & Co. (P) Limited, Kolkata. Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment of 4 MTPY Integrated Steel Project to be set up near Paradeep in Orissa. August 2006. []
  60. EIA analysis of POSCO captive port in Orissa []
  61. Mark Chernaik, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. April 2007. ELAW is a U.S.-based non profit network of public interest attorneys, scientists and activists. []
  62. Editorial, Economic and Political Weekly, June 26, 2010 vol. xlv, nos. 26 & 27, page 8. []
  63. Aarti Sridhar, personal communication via telephone, August 5, 2010. []
  64. The precautionary principle is reflected in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development to which India is a signatory. []
  65. The Supreme court’s explication of the precautionary principle was made in the case Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC 647 on the untreated effluents  from industries and tanneries going into the water bodies and land.  Biswajit Mohanty invoked this case  in his discussion of the harmful effects of port construction on marine life. []
  66. Holding their ground against POSCO, by Kanchi Kohli, July 11, 2010 []
  67. Centre for Science and Environment, 2008. Rich Lands, Poor People- Is Sustainable Mining Possible? Page 255. []
  68. Ibid, Page 255. []
  69. Rodriguez. S. and A. Sridhar. 2010. Harbouring Trouble: The social and environmental upshot of Port Growth in India. Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore. page 22. []
  70. Centre for Science and Environment, 2008. Rich Lands, Poor People- Is Sustainable Mining Possible? Page 256. []
  71. Green cry over POSCO ‘pollution’, The Telegraph, April 14, 2007 []
  72. In a letter addressed to the Orissa State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB), dated April 13th (i.e. prior to the public hearing), Prafulla Samantra from Lok Shakti Abhiyan raised a series of questions about lapses in the EIA, and in the public hearing process. Environmentalist and secretary of Wildlife Society of Orissa Biswajit Mohanty also filed a written objection to the REIA with the OSPCB alleging that the POSCO port at Jatadharmuhan creek would severely affect the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, world’s largest rookery of Olive Ridley turtles, only 30 km away from the proposed site for POSCO’s captive port. []
  73. See Report of an Independent Fact Finding Team on Orissa’s POSCO Project []
  74. See Tension builds over POSCO public hearing – Action Aid urges government to intervene. “A public hearing should be conducted in a systematic and transparent manner, ensuring widest public participation. Such disregard of due process at best points to ignorance of official procedure and at worst, connivance between the state and POSCO to manufacture consensus without the consent of those affected,” said Madhumita Ray of Action Aid-India. []
  75. The stakes for the POSCO project being granted environmental clearance also seem to be raised by the fact that the Chief Minister of Orissa, Mr. Naveen Patnaik from the BJD party, holds the forest and environment ministry. []
  76. Observation by local activist Chitha Behera, via personal communication. []
  77. Letter translated from Oriya into English by Chitha Behera []
  78. Per MoEF’s circular #J 15012/29/2010 dated 19th April 2010 which describes procedure for conduct of public hearings. []
  79. In Writ petition (civil) no.9340/2009 and CM appeals no.s 7127/2009, 12496/2009 filed by Utkarsh Mandal and others in its order dated 26th November 2009. []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>