Naveen Govt. signs MoU with a ghost company, helps ESSAR use the same to its benefit

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The fraud Naveen Patnaik has partnered with a non-Oriya company called ESSAR Steel Orissa Ltd (hereinafter called ESSAR) is so monstrous that a Judicial Commission of Inquiry should be the minimum to probe into the offense in order to bring in discipline to errant administration.

ESSAR is facing environmental prosecution preferred by two responsible citizens of the State, Sri Sarbeswar Mishra and Sri Murli Monohar Sharma in the National Green Tribunal for having subjected River Baitarani to a stratagem of trapping through a huge intake well dug on her chest. But, action is essential against the government functionaries including the Chief Minister for injuring the people of Orissa with a MoU with a non-existent organization called Hy-Grade Pellet Limited and allowing ESSAR to use the same MoU to acquire Government Land, and to use public resources for its own benefit.

Now as the trapping of Bitarani is subjected to environmental jurisprudence in the NGT and there is every possibility of focus on the crime, ESSAR has dismantled the huge intake well it had dug on the chest of Baitarani. It is guilty of dismantling the corpus delicti of its crime when the National Green tribunal is hearing the case against the mischief.

The gory details of the offense, one believes, will come out in course of hearing before the NGT. But we are shocked to see that ESSAR has acquired huge public land and proceeded with construction of its plant, even though it has no authority to do so. The goriest part of the mischief is that it has not even signed the MoU with the State Government!

The fraud Naveen has subjected Orissa to, in this particular case, is grievous. He has made the Government in the department of Steel and Mines sign a MoU with HGPL on 21 April 2005 though by that date the company was not in existence and has forced Orissa officials to act on this MoU in favor of ESSAR!
Orissa Government officials have worked as its slaves in allocating it lands and allowing it to build up the intake well to trap Baitarani for its nefarious exploitation.

When the harmful stratagem of trapping the Baitarani was designed, it is Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who, being the minister of water resources, should have, as the custodian of public interest, acted against ESSAR. But, he didn’t act. Why he didn’t act against ESSAR, despite the discernible violation of relevant Laws, is a matter that calls for his explanation to the people.

He owes explanation to the people in many more matters.

Not accepting but acceding for sake of argument that the ESSAR is the same as HGPL, one deserves the Chief Minister’s answer as to why he has sat nonchalant when Laws of the land as well as its forests and Eco-systems are being raped by ESSAR.

He being a Chief Minister with limited powers to work under the Constitution guided by its Preamble, where from he got a carte blanche to gift away the water of Baitarani to a private firm when the River is not a creation of his Government; and the Government is not the owner thereof, but a mere custodian? And, why his Government failed to appreciate this position?

Why his government did not act to stop the construction of the illegal and unauthorized intake well, when people of different places living on the banks of Baitarani and dependent on her water, raised their voice against the illegality?

Why he did not support Sarbeswar Mishra and Murli Monohar Sharma when they, having all their democratic and peaceful attempts to save the Revered River Baitarani from being so brutally subjected to the traps of ESSAR gone unheeded to, finally preferred an application under section 18(1) read with Section 14 (1) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, as responsible citizens devoted to public well-being?

Why has he not diligently acted when ESSAR has dismantled the intake well that obliterates the corpus delicti of the crime when the matter is actively under environmental jurisprudence before the nation’s Green Tribunal?

His decision as a chief minister to co-operate with ESSAR might have been driven by a desire to usher in an avenue of employment for the local public, as he has been claiming. But in reality the ESSAR system is designed to precipitate unemployment.

The ESSAR system would use Baitarani water to transport ores to inland destination through slurry pipelines is bound to do away with the scopes for road transportation.

Advocate Bibhu Prasad Tripathy, representing Mishra and Sharma in Case No. 89 of 2012 before the NGT says, drawing of water from Baitarani for transportation of iron ore through slurry pipelines and other industrial purposes directly violates environmental laws besides inflicting serious injuries on the riparian community. The Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the government of Orissa in the Department of Water Resources, and concerned District Collectors-cum-Magistrates are evading “statutory obligations” casted upon them for protecting and improving the quality of the environment, he points out. Dismantling of the intake well is as illegal and arbitrary as construction of the same, maintains Advocate Tripathy.

When of late, his government has waked up to the cries of agriculture and has projected a special budget for agriculture, why has he been co-operating in industrial squandering away of the water of River Baitarani? Is the agriculture budget a gadget to befool the farmers?

When the MoU was signed on 21 April 2005, why was it not signed directly with ESSAR, but was signed with HGPL that had lost its life on 10 February 2005? What is the secret purpose behind this fraud?

The so-called MoU with HGPL, which Naveen administration has allowed ESSAR to use to its benefit, in its ‘General Clauges’ (G) (j), has made it a must for the State Government to withdraw all facilities offered to the company in case of non-implementation of the terms and condition, laid down under the MoU. Adherence to Environmental and Forest Laws by the Company is of cardinal importance therein.

But from communications from the Field Officers of the Government, it is seen that ESSAR has constantly contravened the Environmental and Forest Acts.

As for example, the Tahsildar of Barbil, in his report to the Collector and District Magistrate of Keonjhar, vide letter No. 3666, dated 19 October 2011 has mentioned, “there is a clear violation of the orders of the Collector for which action deemed proper may kindly be initiated against M/s Essar Steel Ltd”.

What was the order of the Collector that the Company (ESSAR) contravened?

To see the order, we go to the Collector’s communication No. 960/G & M of 4 August 2011 that tells ESSAR, “In this context, you are hereby noticed not to undertake any construction activities in the non-forest land till final approval orders of diversion of forest land for the project is received”.

It transpired from the same order of the Collector that ESSAR had not submitted any valid document “regarding permission for installation and construction of the project from the Government”. So, it was asked to “show cause with proof of documents” within seven days.

This information gives birth to another question: How in absence of valid documents regarding permission for installation and construction of the project” the Collector/ concerned officials have allocated lands for the project? Have they acted under telephonic instructions of somebody whose telephonic order is too powerful to be ignored? Who that somebody is else than the Chief Minister?

It deserves mention that there was no relevant response to the Collector’s notice; and obviously therefore, the Collector had to ask the Tahsildar to visit the spot and report if his orders were honored.

The Tahsildar visited the site of ESSAR project on 19 October 2011 and reported on the same day that “civil works like construction of boundary wall ……. was going on involving masons and laborers”.

So, ESSAR was caught red-handed by the Tahsildar while contravening the Collector’s prohibitory orders.

Why the Collector had to issue the prohibitory Orders?

This was because, he was forced to issue such an order under compulsion of circumstances, as the company continued to violate the Environment and Forest laws and “public complain” was rising in velocity at his end.

The company had earlier been booked under Orissa Forest Act 1972 for blatant brutalization of the reserved forests while proceeding with laying slurry pipelines sans any authority and legality.

From “show cause notice” issued by Forest Range Officer of Champua Range on 25 June 2011 vide No. 350, it transpires that ESSAR had excavated the soil and laid the slurry pipe line “without forest clearance” and had stored slurry pipes in Naibuga Reserve Forest in which “connection” OR case No. 67ch was instituted against it.

The Collector also mentions of OR case No. 66CH of 2011-12 under the Forest Act while confronting it with the following words: “Prior to obtaining the approval of Govt. of India, MOEF as required under Forest Conservation Act, your agency have already laid pipelines and started construction work in the non-forest land which violates point 4.4 of Chapter 4 of the guidelines of the F.C.Act, 1980 as the project involves both forest and non-forest land. ……………….. Also you have violated the condition at point 4.4 of the F. C. Act, 1980 by constructing a beneficiation plant over 80.0 acres of non-forest land”.

In his Memo No. 5758 captioned “violation of guidelines of Forest Conservation Act, 1980 by M/s Essar Steel Orissa Ltd” sent to the Chief Conservator of Forests on 6 July 2011, the Divisional Forest Officer of Keonjhar has informed, “In spite of repeated instructions, the user agency (ESSAR) has continued the work of laying slurry pipe line and construction of beneficiation plant in non-forest area violating the guidelines of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980”.

On spot visit we found that it has also laid slurry pipe line on forest land and on public roads. At the top of all its illegal activities, it had constructed the huge intake well on the Chest of Baitarani, which it has now dismantled after NGT has taken up the case against it.

These are just a few samples of how the company has contravened the terms and conditions of the MoU signed with HGPL, if at all it is bound to the same.

Naveen Patnaik is required to explain to the public as to why his government has not withdrawn itself from the said instrument so far, in view of the stipulations laid down in the MoU itself.

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