Habitat, natural resources, poor people all under threat : Locals Suffer As Jindal Group Flourishes

Some projects like Niyamgiri had to be abandoned and some faced costly-over runs with an uncertain future (POSCO). However, life was easy for the Naveen Jindal group once they entered the State…


locals-suffer-as-jindal-groWith the rush for industrialisation sparked off by an industry obsessed Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister (CM) of Odisha, there has been a beeline of companies to the State since 2003. Many of them staggered as they faced unprecedented opposition from environmental groups and local tribals who were incensed over forced displacement. Some projects like Niyamgiri had to be abandoned and some faced costly-over runs with an uncertain future (POSCO). However, life was easy for the Naveen Jindal group once they entered the State.
Naveen batted for Naveen and a message was sent down the line that the CM is behind the Jindals and would brook no delay in execution of the project. The land acquisition progressed fast, protestors were simply frightened away by the police as the company easily grabbed huge tracts of land in Angul District for its mega steel and power unit worth Rs. 50,000 crores. This was the largest land acquisition in the State which displaced more than 10,000 farmers and daily labourers but which did not create ripples in the national media!
The Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) project obtained clearance in July 2007. Soon after a complaint was lodged by environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty in November 2010 alleging serious violations of environmental clearance conditions as the company had commenced work on non forest land though forest clearance was yet to be obtained. Though the company was supposed to source water from Brahmani River per the environmental clearance (EC) conditions, it did not do so. Instead it dug numerous tubewells and tapped water from minor irrigation projects like the Paranjga Irrigation Project built for farmers. There were bitter local complaints and protests by farmers of the nearby villages but the State Government never took action against the all powerful Jindal group.
A direction by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) based on the investigation on the 2010 complaint did not result in any action though the violations alleged were confirmed. No case was filed by the State Government u/s 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act,1986 . The State claimed that it would lead to unnecessary delays and court cases do not result in any real action ! The order was directly approved by Naveen Patnaik who also held the Forest and Environment Portfolio at that time.
Emboldened by the protection given by Naveen Patnaik, JSPL went ahead and continued to dump earth in Nandira stream and also drew water by using tube wells. The key Environment Clearance condition regarding water source – . A (v) of the Environment Clearance dated 22.2.2007……“Total requirement of the water River Brahmani/Samal Barrage shall not exceed 14,700 m /hr. Permission has been accorded for the drawal of 7,000 m/hr water for Phase I by the Department of Water Resources , Govt. of Orissa vide letter dated 11th December,2006 and ‘Permission’ for phase II shall be obtained…..” continues to be violated with both the State and Centre closing their eyes though the violation has been going on since the five years!
Civil construction, site development has been done by using huge quantities of water drawn from ground water sources. Hundreds of bore wells have been dug in and around the plant area. There are 40 -50 bore wells concealed inside the water reservoir at Ramdihi village. The company is operating two units of its 135 MW x 6 units of thermal power plant since the last two years without obtaining water from the Brahmani river. Locals report how elephant raids have gone up due to the reduction in the water levels of nearby reservoirs including the Derjang Medium Irrigation Project and streams and ponds. The National Heritage Animal is affected as its crossing paths are impacted. Crops are being destroyed and even humans have lost their lives to elephants.
The natural stream Nandira Nala feeds the Brahmani river. Locals allege that the company has dumped fly ash and earth by encroaching over several kms. The Tahsildar Banarpal has issued notice to the company on 27.12.2010 and 12.1.2011 which were promptly ignored as the company has always enjoyed the blessings of the Chief Minister. Paranga MIP spread over about 150 acres used to provide water for Bhubanpur, Mukandapur, Bedasara, Jarasingha, Kuyio, Jamnali, Benagadia and Majhika villagers. When the project came up, the local farmers willingly gave up land. Little did they know how the Government would allow a company to encroach upon it. The State Government has been receiving regular complaints but no action has been taken.
Notice dated 9.6.2011 was issued by the District Collector, Angul to JSPL to stop dumping. On 11.11.2011 the District Collector, Angul issued notice about illegal withdrawal of water from Reservoir. On 27.4.2012 the Executive Engineer, MI Division, Dhenkanal directed JSPL to stop withdrawing water from Reservoir through an illegal well. There is a water reservoir at Ramdihi spread over 60 acres which does not find mention in the Environment Clearance. The impact of this artificial reservoir on local wildlife, water table, vegetation and crops was never considered earlier by the MOEF and JSPL built it without taking clearance from either State or Central Government. The State Government agencies like the district collector, Forest and Environment Department and the State Pollution Control Board are all aware of the egregious violations but are scared. If they take action, they will be harassed by the top brass of the State Government as it is common knowledge that Jindal group enjoys protection from the Chief Minister.
Now the matter is before the Courts. The WSO has challenged the inaction of the State Government and the MOEF before the Orissa High Court where in its petition it has pointed out how the violations were provided in the past but no action was taken to file criminal cases against the management. The matter came up for hearing for the first time in July, 2013. Nobody knows the answers to the key questions of why this unit has been allowed to escape without action by the State or Central Government. Why is MOEF silent inspite of several complaints about violations which are on record? Is it because Naveen Jindal is a Congress MP and belongs to the ruling party? Will rule of law be inapplicable to people who are part of the ruling combine?
Dr. Biswajit Mohanty, environmentalist and wild life expert said, “I have detected several violations of forest and environment laws by JSPL in their Angul plant since 2010 and have been regularly lodging complaints with the MOEF as well as the State Government. But no action has been taken by the State Government despite the MOEF issuing orders to file cases against them under the Environment Protection (EP) Act, 1986. The State Government intentionally confused environmental law proceedings with forest law and refrained from acting against the Jindal management. Instead of taking action as per environmental violation EP Act 1986 against JSPL, Naveen Patnaik wrote to MOEF pointing out that whatever action was necessary can be taken by MOEF. Does the CM not know that it’s completely a State subject and the Centre has no roll in the EP Act 1986 ? The Chief Minister of Odisha issued orders not to file cases against the Jindal management in 2011.
“Recently, I have lodged another complaint with the State Forest Department pointing out that the company has violated the clearance conditions of the forest clearance. We have demanded withdrawal of forest clearance but the State Forest Department and MOEF have failed to take prompt action. It seems that big corporate violators are treated differently compared to illiterate tribals who may violate forest laws,” Dr. Mohanty added.
The locals were angry as they were thrown out in 2011 when the work was coming to a finish. On 28 January, 2012, violence broke out as thousands of displaced villagers demanded permanent jobs form the company. The protests broke out when a monthly salary of Rs. 3,000 to each displaced person who was given work was discontinued by the company. Jindal had become a State within a State as its private army comprising of 400 security men mostly Jats from Haryana villages faced the angry villagers in January, 2012. 140 villagers were injured as they were chased and beaten up with lathis and iron rods by the robust security men. Though the police were present, they were rendered mute spectators as it was well known that Naveen Patnaik protected this company and police officers could face harassment from the Home Minister if they dared to protect villagers from locals. 140 were injured and 20 of them got critical injuries and had
to be admitted in Angul hospital. Harihara Baral, Krushna Raut, Kumudin Raut,
Nilamanai Dhala and Sarojini Baral were admitted in hospital.
The largest land acquisition of more than 4,000 acres had surprisingly passed smoothly without rehabilitation and protests were strongly put down. As per Binodini Raut, a 52 year old widow who suffered head injuries, JSPL had promised her son a job. She was desperate to meet JSPL officials but was always shooed away for four years. Finally, lathis were rained on her by the security guards, showing how Naveen Jindal owned JSPL deals with local displaced persons when faced with protests. Locals feel that the entire Angul district administration has been hijacked by the company as their complaints do not lead to any action. More is to come as Jindals will try to set up the Coal to Liquid Fuel unit in the same area and the villagers are already gearing up for protest. Most villagers realised that the job promises by Jindal never materialised as they were promptly terminated after a few years of contract work. Many have taken a vow not to allow company officials or Government officials to enter their area.
“Jindal is yet to clear the blood stains we found on its steel in Angul on January 25, 2013 when displaced villagers had gone to the factory gate only with an appeal to the company to fulfill its promises.In Keonjhar they have been blatantly violating all laws and ethics and there is no one to question them. I am told the Jindals don’t like questions. Now they have several proxy operators like the Sharada mines. If everybody in this small State is in their pocket why should they be afraid of any one? Anybody can see in the youtube that how the Jindal people had attacked brutally barbaric and inhumanly to the displaced local people when they had gone for their rights. Where is the democracy?” asked Sudhir Patnaik, the editor of Odiaa fortnightly ‘Samadrusti’.
Not only in the villages of Anugul district but also in Badbil and Champua villages of the Keunjhar district the irregularities and illegalities continue. The high-sounding claims by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) about welfare activities as part of its corporate social responsibilities (CSR) seem to bear no truth when one walks on the road from Ramala chowk to Ramla AshramSchool in Keonjhar district of Odisha. While JSPL has put a concrete board announcing the road as a part of its CSR initiative, the Keonjhar District Rural Development Agency too claims that the road is constructed by it under local area development fund of Jasobant Narayan Singh Laguri, Member of Parliament (MP) representing Keonjhar constituency.
Information available through RTI (Right to Information) suggests that the work contract for the road was given to Jagannath Purty of Ramala village on the recommendation of the MP. The cost of the project was 20 lakhs, as approved by the Government officials at the Block and DRDA offices. The Engineers’ certificates also confirm that the 1.12 kms long road was completed by the contractor in two parts. However, JSPL, which claims to have constructed the road under its CSR initiative, describes the length of the road as 1.8 kms.
The single road may not matter much to the Government or JSPL but this raises serious questions about the CSR claims of corporate houses like JSPL. And, making a claim on a project that is built by the Government is no less a crime! And, the Jindal CSR professionals are certainly happy making such fraudulent claims and bring false credit for the companies they work with. Local journalist Sunil Das said, “In the name of Sarada mines, Jindal has been operating mining in Barbil (Thakurani B Block mine) but as per mining rule 37 the Sarda Mining has dishonored the rule and illegally handed over the mines to Jindal. How the JSPL Company did this type of severe illegal activities? Is it because, Naveen Jindal is a powerful political influenced person? But thanks to our Judiciary system, now the Sub divisional Magistrate of Champua has issued the notice to Sarada mines. Although Sarada and Jindal company have done lots of construction work like conveyor belt for their mining purpose in the Thakurani reserve forest area without any forest and environment clearances, but it is surprising, sad to say and the matter of grave concern is that both the Central and State Government have not taken any serious legal action against the Jindal and Sarada.”
“Come to see the 9 Crore CSR activities of Jindal’s Sarada mines! It is the story of Barbil Bus Stand, which was built by Sarada mines from their CSR funds. In January 2013 the above mentioned bus stand was inaugurated by the Chief Minister Naveen Patanaik. But the 9 Crores rupees bus stand did not last for 9 months. The fraud work and the plight of the bus stand was telecast on a regional news channel. After telecast now the district administration has given a probe order against this cheating and poor standard fraud CSR work. The company people are propagating that they have started a school for the local children but who are really getting chances must be inquired. Only influential peoples children are eligible in that school, not the real local victim poor peoples children. All the Government officers are mum about all the irregularities and not ready to listen a single complain of the public,” added Sunil Das.

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