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Nation's conscience must be awakened to anti-POSCO struggle

Written By krishna on Tuesday, June 07, 2011 | 11:07 PM

Tackling corruption must begin by scrapping the scandalous POSCO project

The brutal police action unleashed by the UPA Government on Baba Ramdev's fasting camp in Delhi has shocked the nation’s conscience; even the Hon'ble Supreme Court has taken suo moto cognisance of the blatant disregard for fundamental rights, and questioned the Government raison de d’etre to so quell dissent. Most mainstream political parties have jostled with each other to gain attention in condemning the incident; and this has by far been the only issue covered and debated non-stop by the electronic and print media for some days now.

However, little or nothing is being said or done about a far more serious situation that is developing in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha, where villagers of Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Patana, etc., are resolutely and peacefully opposing the forcible acquisition of their private and forest lands by the Odisha Government for the benefit of South Korean steel major POSCO. Over the past few days, at least 26 platoons of riot police (over 1,000 police personnel) have been deployed to ruthlessly beat down women, children, the aged, and men who have kept a day/night vigil and not allowed any State functionary, police or company official to enter these villages; thus continuing a phenomenal act of peaceful resistance to POSCO venture, sustained for six years now under the leadership of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi.

Brutal police tactics, criminal intimidation and illegal methods are being employed here to wrest from these peacefully protesting villagers 4000 acres of extraordinarily fertile agricultural and forest land to establish the single largest industrial foreign investment conceived in recent times. The project involves the establishment of a mega steel plant (12 MTPA), backed by a massive coal-fired thermal power plant (400 MW expandable to 1,100 MW), and a major captive port for handling the world's largest cargo ships (Capesize, usually more than a quarter km. in length).1 The project involves further land acquisition for a captive iron ore mine requiring 6,100 acres of predominantly forest land in Khandadhar Hills of Sundergarh district and at least 2,000 acres more for a massive gated township to house POSCO employees. In addition, there would be dedicated water, road and rail linkages that will further exacerbate the displacement and environmental destruction caused by the project.

POSCO: A scandal far bigger than 2G scam
It is high time the nation's conscience is affected by what the project affected communities are suffering under the hands of the Navin Patnaik regime in Odisha. It is time to appreciate the fact that the POSCO project is perhaps the most shocking example of corrupt practices legitimised by State support. This is because the project is nothing short of a legalised loot of our natural resources – iron ore in this case. In an unprecedented deal, Indian and Odisha Governments have supported POSCO's demands to mine 600 million tonnes of the finest iron in India on a 30-year lease. Of this, 30% can be exported for processing in POSCO's Korean plants and thus endorsing profiteering abroad! With current fine iron ore rates crossing Rs. 8,000/tonne, it is simple arithmetic to note that POSCO can recover its capital investment of Rs. 52,000 crores in less than eight years, an unthinkable proposition in any industrial venture! Truly, the POSCO venture is a scandal far worse than those involving 2G and Commonwealth Games.

In fact, A. Raja, principal accused in the 2G scam, may have facilitated POSCO's entry when as Indian Environment Minister in 2007 he accorded the first major statutory clearance by approving the captive port component, one day before he transited to the Telecom Ministry. This was done without any review and also in response to severe pressure from then Union Finance Minister Chidambaram. Various key environmental and forest clearances quickly followed, all by subverting laws and breaking down the massive industrial/mining venture into little parts to hide their true environmental, social and economic consequences.

Three years later when Jairam Ramesh, the sitting Environment Minister, ordered a comprehensive review of these clearances by setting up two independent investigations, both committees confirmed that the clearances had been secured by fraud and subterfuge, and strongly recommended withdrawal of these illegal approvals. The appropriate action that the Minister should have taken was to cancel these fraudulent clearances and initiate criminal action against all involved in the POSCO decisions. Such action would have been true evidence of the oft-made claim by the UPA Government that it is serious about tackling corruption.

Instead, Jairam Ramesh claimed he was working towards “cooperative federalism” and on the basis of his “faith and trust” in the Odisha Government approved the project's environment and CRZ clearances on 31 January 2011 and subsequently the forest clearance on 2nd May. This was despite absolute evidence that the Forest Rights Act had been fundamentally violated by deliberately overlooking Gram Sabha resolutions (convened by the constitutionally empowered Panchayats in the project affected villages) that clearly rejected the project. Ramesh, thus, became a party to the fraud in environmental decision-making and also directly responsible for the dangerous situation that is developing in the POSCO affected villages today.

We fear that the exigent State police action that is now underway in these villages may result in another Kalinganagar or Nandigram type of situation. The scant attention paid by mainstream political parties, the media and the public is only strengthening the Navin Patnaik Government to disregard Constitution norms and act ruthlessly to secure lands for the advantage of POSCO.

In an effort to prevent such a carnage from taking place, various eminent people in the country have intervened and appealed to the Prime Minister of India to “immediately ask the Odisha government to halt this illegal attack, to withdraw all clearances given in violation of law, and to take an impartial position in the court cases filed by the people. Failure to stop this attack will show that the UPA government's much vaunted concern over issues of displacement, forest rights and "inclusive growth" is simply an eyewash.” A copy of this appeal is enclosed.

While endorsing these demands, we additionally urge that:

The Odisha Government must immediately withdraw its police operations and forcible acquisition of land for POSCO.

The Central Bureau of Investigation must immediately expand the scope of its ongoing investigations against A Raja by reviewing his role in the POSCO clearances, and that of all those who have been involved in illegally promoting this scandalous project, possibly including then Finance Minister and presently Home Minister, Chidambaram.

The scandalous POSCO project must be scrapped as its benefits will be accrued mainly by major American financiers (including Warren Buffet) who are major stockholders of this South Korean company.

Issued by: Environment Support Group (Bangalore), Campaign for Survival and Dignity, National Forum of Forest People andForest Workers (NFFPFW), National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), Delhi Solidarity Group, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) and All India Students' Association (AISA)

Contact numbers: 9560756628, 9868337493, 9868259836

Release of ESG Study on impacts of POSCO's India project

“Tearing through the Water Landscape:

Evaluating the environmental and social consequences of POSCO project in Odisha, India”
On 2nd May 2011, Indian Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh finally approved the diversion of over 3,000 acres of forest land, of the 4,000 acres demanded, for a steel-power-port complex of the POSCO India project. Earlier, on 31 January 2011, Ramesh had approved the environmental and coastal regulation zone clearances that the project had secured in 2007, even though all these clearances were obtained by fraud, and thus illegal, as proved by an independent investigative committee appointed by the MoEF last year as well as by another expert committee.

Forest Rights denied is violation of Fundamental Rights
The diversion of forests for non-industrial use by POSCO was based on “categorical assurances” that Jairam Ramesh sought from the Odisha Government, that the Forest Rights Act did not apply to communities affected directly and indirectly by POSCO. The Odisha Government gave him this assurance on the basis of fraudulent claims that there were no non-traditional forest dwellers and tribes in the POSCO project affected villages of Jagatsinghpur, thus making this massive land transfer merely an administrative arrangement. Rather cheaply, the Odisha Government accused Shishir Mahpatra, the Sarpanch of Dhinkia Panchayat, of fraud in providing resolutions of Palli Sabhas that demonstrated that not only were there OTFDs and tribals in the project affected area, but that they had been dependent on the region's natural resources, particularly forests, for centuries. Ramesh did not hesitate for a moment and question this claim by the Odisha Government. On the basis of this uncertainty in fact, he proceeded to support the POSCO clearance claiming it was of “strategic importance” to India.

Authorising the loot of India's natural resources
As the single largest industrial foreign direct investment ever in India (with a capital cost of Rs. 51,000 crores at 2005 prices), POSCO's ambitions in India aren't merely of location a steel-power-port complex in the ecologically senstive Jagatsinghpur district. In fact, company officials have submitted before the investigative committees that they will not invest in the steel-port complex if permission to mine for iron ore in over 6,100 acres of dense jungle in the Kandadhar Hills in Sundergarh district is not granted. Most of this iron ore mined is for export without any local value addition, and thus will serve the economic interest of South Korea and POSCO stockholders – mainly American banks and Warren Buffet – one of the world's richest's individuals. POSCO has also demanded a dedicated railway line to the port – that means additional land demands. Further the project requires at least 2,000 acres for a township for its employees, and diversion of drinking water from the Jobra barrage for industrial use. All this has been agreed to by the Odisha Government when the project MOU was signed in 2005, but the people have been kept in the dark of the real consequences of such loot of India's non-renewable natural resources.

The Making of a 'Right-less People' by Jairam Ramesh
Over 13,000 acres is merely the demand of land for realising POSCO's dream venture in India. Thousands of families will be dislocated, and suffer irreparable damage to their lives and livelihoods. It is time we appreciated that this steel-power-port-township-mining project is the single largest industrial venture conceived in recent memory, and that such scale of investment will be done only because we are gifting highly expensive and excellent iron ore for POSCO to make stupendous profits. There is absolutely no benefit for India in this deal, and what POSCO will leave behind, if they succeed at all, is a lot of fly ash, destroyed ecologically sensitive coastal and forest environments and thousands of people in misery.

To help appreciate the full consequences of the POSCO investment in India, Environment Support Group, a not-for-profit public interest research, training, campaign and advocacy initiative, has produced a study entitled “Tearing through the Water Landscape: Evaluating the environmental and social consequences of POSCO project in Odisha, India”, which is co-authored by Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao. This study was undertaken at the request of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (POSCO Project Resistance Movement), leading the opposition against the POSCO project. The study reveals on the basis of extensive review of historical, ecological, social and economic evidence that Jairam Ramesh's support for POSCO is nothing but a highly condemnable act that legitimises fraud and corruption in environmental decision making. As a result, the study reveals that Ramesh has today become the architect of one of India's greatest planned disasters that begins its ominous initiative by turning the affected communities into a 'rightless people', as their fundamental rights have been snatched on the basis of “faith and trust” in Odisha Government's lies.

A copy of this study is accessible at www.esgindia.org

Environment Support Group, 1572, 36th Cross, Banashankari II Stage, Bangalore 560070Tel: 91-80-26713559~61 Email: esg@esgindia.org Web: www.esgindia.org
Email of authors of this study:
Leo Saldanha: leo@esgindia.org Cell: +919448377403
Bhargavi S. Rao: bhargavi@esgindia.org

1The steel-port-power complex is proposed in a region that is an ecologically sensitive area considering that it is here that the endangered Olive Ridleys nest and are spawning grounds for the equally endangered Horse Shoe Crabs. A serious issue that has been deliberately overlooked is that this very region forms the epicentre of intense cyclonic activity that frequently batters Odisha. The 1999 super cyclone, for instance, had wave heights of 26 feet and winds with speeds of 260 kms slammed this coast wreaking death and destruction several miles inside. POSCO proposes to avoid the impacts of such extreme weather events by lifting up by the base height of its entire 4,000 acre steel-power complex by 20 feet!

Statement issued by concerned citizens

To
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi 110 001

Sub: Demand immediate action to halt attack on peaceful protesters of proposed POSCO project area

Respected Dr. Manmohan Singh,

We condemn the outrageous and illegal attempt by the Odisha government, with the connivance and support of the Centre, to attack and seize the land of the villagers affected by the proposed POSCO project. We understand that on June 3rd, 17 people - including five children - were arrested and beaten by the police because they refused to allow the destruction of their farms. We also understand that the administration has been announcing through loudspeakers that they will use force against anyone who does not submit to the takeover of their land within the next 24 hours. Thousands of people are peacefully protesting while 24 platoons of police have been deployed in the area, probably for use in a brute force attempt at taking the land of the villages of Dh inkia and Gobindpur TODAY - Monday, June 6th - or in the coming days. This is occurring even as court cases by the villagers are pending in the Orissa High Court and are due to be heard shortly.

This attack on the lives and livelihoods of thousands is doubly outrageous because it has been repeatedly shown, and accepted by three different official committees, that the takeover of this land is illegal and in violation of the Forest Rights Act. The Environment Ministry has violated the law and its own orders and stated as much when giving the clearance. We note that in February of this year the National Advisory Council had specifically asked you to ensure that the practice of handing over forest land to companies in gross violation of this "landmark law", as you yourself described it, should be halted and action taken against the officials responsible.

Further, the project is proceeding despite the fact that an official committee said it had "potentially disastrous impacts" on the environment that could "cause loss of life"; and after an independent study showed that it would lead to a net loss of employment, destitution and impoverishment of around 50,000 people while producing no benefits for the local economy. Indeed, there is such a pattern of illegality around this project that five prominent anti-corruption activists have recently called for an investigation into "criminal collusion" between government officials and the company.

We call upon you to immediately ask the Odisha government to halt this illegal attack, to withdraw all clearances given in violation of law, and to take an impartial position in the court cases filed by the people. Failure to stop this attack will show that the UPA government's much vaunted concern over issues of displacement, forest rights and "inclusive growth" is simply an eyewash.

Sincerely,

Deep Joshi, PRADHAN and Member, National Advisory Council
Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and Member, National Advisory Council
Kavita Srivastava, People's Union for Civil Liberties
Harsh Mander, Aman Biradari and Member, National Advisory Council
Dr. Madhav Gadgil, Ecological Scientist and Member, National Advisory Council
Arvind Kejriwal, Parivartan India and India Against Corruption
Dr. B.D. Sharma, Bharat Jan Andolan and former Commissioner for SC/STs, Government of India
Prof. Amit Bhaduri, Council for Social Development
Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People's Movements
Justice Rajinder Sachar, People's Union for Civil Liberties and former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court
Swami Agnivesh, World Council of Arya Samaj
Dr. Binayak Sen, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
Adv. Prashant Bhushan, Campaign for Judicial Accountability
Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkare (Retd), NAPM - Karnataka
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Navdanya
Prof. Kamal Chenoy, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Prof. Ilina Sen
Prof. K. Satchidanandan
Dr. K S Subramanian, IPS
Suhas Borkar, WGRAS
Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Dr. Manoranjan Mohanty, Council for Social Development
Dr. Walter Fernandes, North Eastern Social Research Centre
Dr. Mira Shiva (Public Health Expert)
Madhu Bhaduri (former diplomat)
Dr. Sandeep Pandey, National Alliance for People's Movements
Thomas Kocherry, World Forum of Fisher People
Xavier Dias, Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee
Sumit Chakravarty, Mainstream
Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh
Dr. Bela Bhatia, Social Scientist
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