Kujang: Even as South Korean steel major Posco has announced its decision to wrap up its project here in Jagatsinghpur district, it has over the years dealt a heavy blow to the environment by chopping down over eight lakh trees at the project site.
This has come as a rude shock at a time when people all over the world are observing International Day of Forests March 21 (Tuesday) by taking a pledge to plant more trees to save the environment.
While countries are laying stress on afforestation, the trail of destruction that Posco has left in its wake in this district cannot be overlooked.
Residents are demanding accountability after the steel major announced its withdrawal from the state, that too after causing such large-scale environmental destruction. Many are questioning how the firm could chop down so many trees without the slightest concern for the environment. The residents have demanded compensation for the loss of tress cut down by Posco.
Locals are demanding to know if the Centre or state allowed the steel firm to cut down the trees. While the Union environment ministry never allowed the cutting down of the trees, a case in this regard is pending with the National Green Tribunal.
A public interest litigation (PIL) was also filed in this regard in the High Court.
It is alleged that the multinational company with the help of the district administration, IDCO and police managed to chop down over eight lakh trees of various types at the project site near Paradip ignoring the protests of residents during 2012 and 2013.
The villagers then resisted the move but the company officials did not pay heed to their pleas and overpowered them with the help of police. The police personnel were accused of providing cover to the company by brutally assaulting residents who opposed the tree-felling during land acquisition for the proposed project.
Sources said the state government signed an MoU with Posco June 22, 2005 to set up a steel plant on 4,004 acres of land in Kujang at a plan outlay of `54,000 crore. The project was then claimed as the largest investment by any multinational in the country.
The validity of the MoU was for five years which would expire if the plant does not become operational within the period. However, over 15,000 residents living in the area opposed the project to save their home and farmlands from being acquired by the company.
As the five-year period was nearing to an end, the state government directed the district administration to acquire land for the project.
The district administration with the help of police and company officials forcibly evicted the land owners and chopped down over eight lakh trees in the area during the period of 2010-2013.
The state industries minister announced that a fresh MoU will be signed with Posco which however never became a reality due to various legal complications. PNN