Unless the company wins over villagers.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has passed the Posco buck, nominally to the government of Orissa but, in reality, to the courts. His final clearance of the project depends on a categorical assertion by the government of Orissa that there are no "other traditional forest dwellers" among those whose land would be diverted for the project.
Three committees appointed by the Union environment and forests ministry, which do not see eye-toeye on many things, all agree on two things: one, the people who would be displaced are indeed "other traditional forest dwellers" and, two, their rights as defined in the Forest Rights Act have been violated in the Posco clearance process.
Now, if the government of Orissa does provide the Centre with the categorical assertion that it has sought on the nature of the people who would be displaced, it is inevitable that the villagers would go to court.
Whether the affected villagers are indeed people whom the Forest Rights Act seeks to protect is a matter of fact that would then be left to the courts to verify, beyond final challenge in the Supreme Court. This will take time.
But a lengthy pilgrimage through the shrines of graded sanctity of Indian legality is not the only future open to Posco. The company can make a fresh, larger-hearted and better funded effort to win over the villagers whose lives and livelihoods would be disrupted by the project than the current one rejected by the villagers.
People need certainty about their future incomes and occupations, and these would need to be superior to what they are asked to give up.
This would not take much, given how the villagers eke out a living.
But it does call for imagination, empathy and a willingness to engage directly with the villagers and not just with political and bureaucratic powerbrokers.
Has the first environment minister to take his job seriously, rather than as an office for rent-seeking, thrown in the towel?
Not really. Posco is now a token of governmental commitment to industry and foreign investment. The state has to show its earnestness. At the same time, companies and their projects must respect, not bend, the people of India and their laws. The Posco decision sets the stage for companies to show how they are inclined.
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