A central government committee has asked Orissa not to acquire land for the Posco steel project without settling the claims of displaced people under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
"Proceeding with land acquisition without settling people's forest right claims will be a clear violation of the FRA," said Ashish Kothari, a committee member.
On Tuesday, the state started its land acquisition process and a fresh survey in Jagatsinghpur district where the plant is proposed to come up.
Kothari said the district administration should help villagers file their claims under the FRA.
The three-member committee was constituted by the Union ministries of environment and forests, and tribal affairs to look into allegations of flouting of laws while diverting forest land for the Korean steel major.
On Saturday, the trio visited the area marked for the plant, and met villagers in Gadakujanga, Dhinkia and Nuagaon gram panchayats (about 120 km from Bhubaneswar).
Kothari said they found serious contradictions between the state's claims on the FRA and ground realities. Consent was not sought from the village committee on the issue of diversion of forest land, he said.
The state had told the environment ministry that there were no traditional forest dwellers cultivating land in the area for three generations.
"However, people gave us evidence that they had been cultivating betel leaves and other crops for the last 75 years," Kothari said.
The committee's observations will come as a relief to affected people who maintain that the administration has discouraged them from filing claims under the FRA.
The ministry had given its "final clearance" to the Posco project in January. But it was subject to the state's adherence to procedures under the FRA.