Report by Odisha Diary bureau, Sambalpur: Water rights body Water Initiatives Odisha today criticized the state government for permiting POSCO to draw water from Mahanadi and Hansua rivers. “This is unfortunate. There has been stiff and genuine opposition by farmers and general public against diversion of Mahanadi and Hansua water for POSCO at the cost of drinking water for Cuttack and irrigation water at Hansua”, said Ranjan Panda, Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha.
Any diversion of water from Hansua would lead to serious problems for the local farmers and their farm produces will be affected.
In September 2010, WIO had objected to this move by the government saying it was making whimsical decisions by not doing appropriate study of water availability in Mahanadi and Hansua. We had said that any change in the original proposal of POSCO would mean having fresh environmental impact assessments and public hearing. Even the Meena Gupta committee that inquired into violations of environmental laws by POSCO took cognizance of all these problems and had rightly said:
If water is to be drawn from Hansua Nallah or any other source (other than Jobra Barrage) the Environmental impact has to be assessed and incorporated into the EIA and an opportunity to be heard given to the affected parties ought to have been given to the affected parties. The effect of non-disclosure of this vital information has deprived opportunity for people who are likely to be impacted due to the water drawal.
WIO has been raising these issues with the government and asking disclosure of the assessment studies, if any, based on which these decisions are taken. This is more important in context of the fact that POSCO had earlier rejected the idea of taking water from local sources terming those to be saline. In the Chapter 5 of the existing EIA it has been mentioned that “This make up water requirement will not be met from the nearby surface streams like Mahanga River or Harua River etc within the study area as these streams are saline due to tidal effect. The water source will be Mahanadi River near Cuttack about 85 km away from the plant site.”
“Changing the plan to go for local ‘saline’ sources means changing technology and a fresh study of the impact of these technology on local environment is also called for,” urged Panda.
“How can the Odisha government give permission to POSCO taking a deviation from the original proposal without going for a complete assessment of the water availability, impacts of the drawal and related construction and other activities,” asked Panda. “This is clear cut violation of environmental laws and the government must roll back this decision”, urged he.
The media reports that we have come across have reported that permission has been given to POSCO to draw drinking water (from Mahanadi) and for construction (from Hansua). There is no mention about permission of water for production.
“If this latest permission does not mention about the water for production then it is another violation. We need a comprehensive assessment of all water that is going to be given to POSCO for all its works and needs. Most importantly public hearings should be made in Cuttack as well as among farmers and general people dependent on Hansua where the government must present the real figures and impacts. Then only the government can think of giving any nod POSCO”, said Panda.
WIO terms this decision of the government illegal and corrupt. Further, taking this decision in such a dubious and non-transparent manner while the election code of conduct is in force, the government has proved that it has got scant regards for both the Constitution and the people.
“We urge upon the Odisha government to immediately withdraw this decision and go for fresh environmental impacts assessments of these new proposals,” said Panda.