The National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) has outright rejected the clearance given by the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests to the POSCO project as a sell out to economic interest at the cost of not only the environment but also the lives and livelihoods of the fishing community.
“It is indeed ironical that the Minister instead of protecting the interest of the people has surrendered the same to the company,” said NFF chairperson Matanhy Saldanha.
The so called 32 additional conditions inserted to the clearance given to the company to set up a captive minor port offers nothing to the traditional occupants of the land that will be taken over by the company.
“As far as the fishing community from the area is concerned, the minister has failed to protect their interest and left them to the ‘largesse and good conscience’ of the company officials,” he said.
NFF pointed out that the minister has asked the company to undertake a detailed assessment of the impact of the captive minor port on the fishing community and the resultant economic losses.
“It is living in a fool’s paradise to expect the very company that is seeking to displace the fishing community to give a realistic assessment of the impact its project would have on them,” he said.
NFF argued that it was incumbent upon the minister to appoint an independent committee to assess and the impact the resultant losses in order to protect the interest of the local residents instead of asking the company to do so.
“This condition is nothing but a sell out of the poor fishing community to the more lucrative economic interest as the government has totally abdicated its responsibility towards its citizenry,” he said.
Even the condition that the company will have to consult the locals over the fishing jetty is with a proviso that prima facie appears to be again loaded against the locals. The construction of the jetty for the fishing community will need a fresh clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone and if the same is not given, it would mean that the fishing community will not have a jetty, said Mr. Saldanha.
“Besides losing the land from where they operated for centuries, further burdened by restriction in the area available for fishing, the fishing community will be faced with a bigger problem of not having a place to unload their catch, which will result in total loss of livelihood for them,” he said.
Both these conditions claimed to be in the interest of the fishing community, in reality are nothing but a means to appease the minister’s conscience without really giving any protection or right to the local community, claimed Mr. Saldanha.
He demanded that the minister forthwith amend the clearance by making it mandatory that the company first construct the jetty for the fishing community. He also demanded hat the ministry set up an independent body to assess the impact of the project on the local communities and the resultant losses it will suffer.
The Minister for Environment and Forests has also failed to live to the mandate given to him to protect the environment as he has sought to transfer this responsibility to the company itself.
POSCO has been asked to submit a Marine Environment Conservation Plan, when in reality the ministry should have prepared such a plan and got the company to implement it.
“Till this is done, the company should not be allowed to go ahead with its project and the government of Orissa should not be permitted to transfer the forest land,” demanded Mr. Saldanha.