Orissa Government should explain how Stemcor completed 95% of its Project sans Entitlement

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Law never allows any ore-based industrial project to proceed without forest clearance.

But Stemcor, a foreign private company established in U.K. and engaged in collection of raw materials from “minehead” to supply of the same to “factory floor” of steel producers in 45 countries across the globe, has completed 95% of its project in Orissa to flume away Baitarani water to use in conversion of ore fines to iron pellets, behind the back of the people and sans entitlement

Orissa Government run by Naveen Patnaik has suppressed this fact of foreign ownership and has shown it as a company of Orissa origin.

The MoU signed with this foreign firm on 15 March 2007 mentions “M/s Brahmani River Pellets Limited (BRPL), a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956, having its registered office at Plot No. 3915, Lewis Road, Kedargouri square, Bhubaneswar 751014” as the company to which the government has given guarantee of its cooperation. This is therefore clear that the Orissa Government has co-operated with the foreign company Stemcor in appearing before the people of Orissa as a registered company of their own soil. When BRPL is “a wholly owned Stemcor project” why the name of Stemcor is not at all mentioned in the MoU needs be explained by the Government.

Suppression of this vital information from people of Orissa is an offense that raises many questions on motive of the firm and its accountability as well as on the conduct of the Government.

Orissa is now considered by foreign profit mongers as such a grazing ground that Stemcor disposed of 90% of its holding in the Savage River iron ore mine, which it had acquired in 2005 in Australia, only in order to invest the money in Orissa in 2007 under the style of BRPL. A very senior IAS officer confides in me that Stemcor agents had met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in January 2007 and several times thereafter. On being sure of his support, the company had disposed of its share in the Australian firm to grab Orissa as its grazing ground.

What would it do in Orissa?

It shall act a scavenger of mining offals for pelletization; but thereby shall eliminate every scope for the State to use the ore fines in future.

Its project comprises a 4 MTPA iron ore pelletization complex involving 4.7 MTPA beneficiation plant at Tonto, Nalda in the district of Keonjhar, a 4 MTPA pelletization plant in Kalinga Nagar Industrial Complex, Duburi in the district of Jajpur, and an iron ore slurry pipeline connecting the two plants. It shall flume away the water of Baitarani for this purpose.

The Water Resources Department held by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is to supply water from River Baitarani “for its construction needs, operation of the plants, as well as auxiliary requirement for services and related facilities” when the approximate requirement of water will be 480 cum/hr from Baitarani during construction and operation of Beneficiation Plant.

Water is no property of the Government

The owner of a property can sell away the same to anybody of his choice. But, one, who is not the owner, cannot do it.

No law of the country has made any government the owner of natural resources including rivers or natural bodies of water. When natural resources belong to the people for all future generations to come, the Government is supposed to manage the natural resources just as a trusty of the people. But Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been acting as the owner and arbitrarily disposing of mines, lands and waters of Orissa in total disregard to needs of the present and future generations of the people. River Baitarani is the latest victim of this mischief.

Baitarani, the flowing testimony of Orissa’s glowing past

Orissa’s past was unique; because Buddha, born here, had not only applied Orissa’s tribal societal practice of democratic centralism in his Samgha system, but also had organized the tribal people of north India in the Orissa model to obstruct empire building in the heartland of Vedic Imperialism at Magadha, in order to save the then Orissa from imperial onslaught. Generations after, the wicked Asoka of Magadha has attacked Orissa to avenge the defeat of his forefathers and to desecrate Buddha’s birthplace to shatter the fountainhead of Buddhism. The matriarch people of Orissa – for which history does not know the king, if any, of Kalinga who had faced the Magadhan aggressor – had collectively fought the battle against Asoka and contrary to wrong noting in the history misled by Asoka and his cohorts, had vanquished him and allowed him to go back with his life only after he agreed to accept Buddhism as his creed. The area, where the Kalinga War was fought, is the land where Muni Kapila was residing. His birthplace is Kapileswar in the Dhauli giri region, where the people of Sakya clan live. Sankhya – the philosophy of Kapila – might have been derived from Sakya or the vice versa. But the rationalistic approach of Sankhya is sic passim in the system of Buddhism. Buddha who belonged to Aditya sub-clan of Sakya was born also in the Kpilavastu – the reddish soil region – under the Dhauligiri. In Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, at page 189 of Vol.XI, Gorbe observes that Sankhya “may be attributed to the same district of India as produced Buddhism”. Slowly and steadily history is being corrected to accept that Buddhism was produced in Orissa. If Kapila was the ancient sage to whom oblation is paid in Pitr Paksha, Orissa is viewed as the land of the Pitr or Pitr Desha. Because of being the land of Buddha it is also known as the land of the sinless. From Northern India, entrance into this land spread under the Dhauligiri, comprising the Prachi Valley and on the embankment of River Daya, one is to cross the River Baitarani that flows on the northern portion of Orissa. So, India’s greatest epic Mahabharata has said, “Ganga acquires the name of Baitarai, as only beyond her, is situated the sinless land of the ancients, the Pitr Desha [the modern Orissa]” (Adi Parva, 169/22).

Baitarani is one of India’s most revered rivers whom Mahabharata has given much importance. The greatest epic further describes it as “a river that enhances the strength of the Lord of Waters [Baruna]” (Sabha Parva, 9/20); “she absolves all sins, as by bathing in it at Biraja Tirtha [Jajpur], one glows like the moon” ( Bana Parva, 55/6); “she is one of those rivers of Bharat [India] the water of which the people of the entire country directly drink” (Visma Parva, 9/34).

But this river of pure potable water is ruined due to unrestrained industrial exploitation.

Ruined under the rule of Naveen

In the last decade, under the rule of Naveen Patnaik, as many as 108 mines, covering 290 sqr.kms lease area, 24 sponge iron units and 250 crushing units have spread over the Baitarani river valley drawing enormous water from its basin to elutriate the ores and to run the factories. The famous river is now severely affected by industrial pollution and pillage

Thanks to Shree Murli Manohar Sharma and his Advocate Shree Bibhu Prasad Tripathy, a hope against hope is somewhat being generated that the ancient river may get a reprieve from the labyrinth of industrial exploitation.

Sharma, socio-politically involved with the people, belongs by birth to Barbil in the district of Keonjhar and therefore, emotionally worried over ruin of the revered river.

bptTripathy, a National Law School of India product, is as proficient in his profession as devoted to causes of Orissa and her people. He is representing Sharma in Case No. 60/2012 before the National Green Tribunal to save the River Baitarani from pernicious industrial exploitation in the best interest of the people of Orissa, who are in deep anguish over their state government siding with industries in causing irreparable injuries to their unique eco-systems and rivers of pure potable waters.

It is absolutely shocking that the State government is cooperating in industrial exploitation of Baitarani. If the foreign firm Stemcor (BRPL) is not said ‘no’ to flume away its water, the riparian community will severely perish.

Riparian people to suffer the worst

The Industrial exploitation of Baitarani has seriously affected a population of 17.55 lakhs in 2432 villages under 16 riparian blocks in the Baitarani basin comprising five districts namely, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Bhadrak, Jajpur, and Kendrapara. A huge population comprising 19 % of the dwellers of the five districts use the Baitarani water directly for drinking. They all shall perish if Stemcor (BRPL) is not stopped; as it shall consume huge water in elutriating the ore fines.

Zilla Parisad resolution gone in vain

Against this backdrop and in utter disappointment over the difficulties that industrial use of Baitarani is causing to the people, the Keonjhar Zilla Parisad in its meeting on 01 February, 2010 had resolved not to allow any companies to draw water from upstream of Baitarani. But, when the Government sides with the eco-destroyers, the Zilla Parisad resolution went in vain.

Interim order of National Green Tribunal

Sharma has filed the case against M/S. Brahmani River Pallets Ltd. But in a tremendously eco-friendly order applicable to all the industries, the National Green Tribunal of India has prohibited use of water from river Baitarani in contravention of the agreement or contrary to “the purpose for which clearance has not been granted”.

It has ordered that, M/S. Brahmani River Pallets Ltd (BRPL) “shall not go ahead with construction of the project without obtaining Environment Clearance.

But the State Government, that has pledged itself to obtain the clearance for the shadow company has not been stopped from using its power for a foreign firm.

Treachery by the Government against the people

The State Government knows well that BRPL will serve no purpose of Orissa in matter of economic uplift. It aims at processing iron ore fines into high grade concentrates which can then be used for pelletization to use in the steel making process in 45 foreign countries. Orissa shall not be the beneficiary of its pelletization. But the people of Orissa shall continue to suffer loss of electricity for benefit of this trading company, as for the Beneficiation plant at Tonto, it will consume 18.5 MW power and for the Pellet plant, it will consume equal MWs. Thus 37MW power will be diverted every day from the grid of Orissa when the State has no scope to use its product and people are perishing under power cuts. This is a treachery the State government is pledged to play against the people.

Ever since Naveen Patnaik has grabbed power, Orissa is being mercilessly denuded of her natural wealth by private and foreign industries. How the government has been helping them to hoodwink the laws, as and when occasion arises, is viewable in what the above firm has told the Tribunal.

It obtained “an in-principle approval from the Works department for laying of iron ore slurry pipelines on 13.06.2007 within three months of signing the MoU.

In the next month on 19.07.2007 it got permission for laying the pipeline alongside State highway No.10.

The State Pollution Control Board rushed its consent for its iron ore beneficiation plant and pipeline laying on 29.08,2007 and the national highway chief engineer also allowed it on 7.12.2007 to lay pipelines in NH 215.

The Water Resources department administered by the Chief Minister allocated 4.70 cusecs water from river Baitarani with effect from 11.02.2009 and a week thereafter, on 19.02.2009, the State Government bagged for it environment clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.

In October that year, on 14.10.2009, the State Government bound the Governor in an agreement with it to supply 4.70 cusecs of water from Baitarani keeping him in dark about the requirement of water by the riparian people, even though by that date the company had not applied for clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act for diversion of forest lands for non-forest use in setting up the beneficiation and construction of pipelines.

So, it is clear that, before the firm applied for forest clearance, the State Government had allocated its required water on 11.02.2009 and organized for it forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest on 19.02.2009 and on 14.10.2009, it had misled the State Governor to be bound by an agreement with the firm for supply of its required water. One has reasons to suspect, in view of this, that the State Government has been dancing to the tune of this foreign firm.

However, in course of time, under exigencies of Law, on 27.06.2011, the Forest Range Officer of Barbil had directed this firm to stop work in view of absence of forest clearance. But as works reportedly continued, the Collector of Keonjhar District had to use his authority to stop the work.

The company has informed the Tribunal that, on receipt of the notice to stop work, it had instantly complied with the same. But by then, approximately 95% of its project was completed.

The company itself has stated that the “Central Government granted Stage-1 forest clearance on 02.11.2011 for the beneficiation plant and pipeline. The Stage-2 clearance for the beneficiation plant was granted on 09.07.2012 and the Stage-2 clearance for the pipeline was granted on 17.08.2012”.

If this is the position, how has the company completed “approximately 95% of the project” before receiving the work-stop order on 27.06.2011 from the Forest Range Officer? Obviously, it has almost completed the project without entitlement.

Does not the Chief Minister owe an answer to the people on this score?

Illegalities galore

intake well on Baitarani

It is absolutely baffling that when the project had been put to stop because of lack of forest clearance, the area water resources S.D.O. had to submit a report to the Executive Engineer stating that “the construction work at the intake well site by BRPL was as per the approved drawings” while certifying that the “water conductor system in which BRPL would draw water from Baitarani river was feasible and the construction of the intake well would not affect the natural flow of Baitarani river”.

construction on forest landconstructuin in forest area

Thus it is clear that the company was going ahead with its construction even after the work-stop notice from the Collector of Keonjhar.

As outcry over misuse of Baitarani by this company is rising, it now asserts that the water from the river “will only be used primarily during the non-lean period”. There is no mention at all in the MoU that the State Government shall have the lock and key to control the flume into the slurry pipelines and the intake well during the lean period.

So it is a treachery being played by the government of Naveen Patnaik against the people of Orissa.

In the case filed by Sharma, it is adopting technicalities to escape. Law of limitation, non-prosecution under the Irrigation Act etc are ploys in use.

But I wonder why the State government is not rising to the occasion? Why individuals – Sharma or anybody – should exhaust their purse and energy in filing and pursuing cases against this company in the NGT?

forest being denuded of trees

Without any entitlement to do any construction work in absence of forest clearance, it has been denuding the forest of trees and has done immense damage to the eco-system. It has looted the most valuable trees and sold them away apparently in the black market. The forest department of Government of Orissa has apparently been forced by the political leadership to keep mum or has been gained over by the company quite. Otherwise, unauthorized tree cutting could have been interfered with and criminal action against the company for the felony should have started.

Either it is the State that has been hoodwinked by this company or it is this company that has committed illegalities by completing approximately 95% of the project sans eligibility, in total disregard to legal stipulations.

So, the State must ban this company on the ground of its illegalities and must file prosecutions against it for contravention of environmental laws and unauthorized loot of its forest.

It is essential to deny this company the water from Baitarani and to refuse to renew the MoU.

It is a fit case for study how the State suffers when compradors control administration.

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