Saturday, May 15, 2010


15 May 2010

New Delhi

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the unprovoked firing and arson carried out by the Orissa state police against a dharna of farmers and fisher folk opposed to the proposed POSCO steel project in Jagatsingpur district.

As per latest reports, today over 100 people have been injured and many shops and houses in Balitutha village, the site of the dharna, have been set on fire by the policemen. Around 40 divisions of policemen were involved in the operation, which continues even now as we write this. Hundreds of villagers belonging to the PPSS (POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti) have been sitting in a peaceful dharna since 26 January 2010 to express their dissent against the proposed plant.

It is also outrageous to note that the atrocities and arson by the police at Balitutha at the moment is being led by the SP of the district while chief minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar is issuing statements like “We are for peaceful industrialization” to the media. Naveen Patnaik is known for his ruthless manner in which he has dealt with democratic resistances in the past 10 years in the state, in which many innocent people have lost their lives to police firing and other forms of violence perpetrated by the state.

Prior to today’s police action, there was already an economic blockage imposed by the state administration of the villages earmarked for land acquisition and where resistance is the strongest. There is a strong fear that any police raid on the villagers to oust them from their land will result in the loss of innocent lives in an area where thousands were already killed when the Orissa Super Cyclone hit the area just a decade ago. Nevertheless, the area is endowed with rich natural resources and has a prosperous economy of its own, and the local communities – as they have expressed it over and over again – do not want to trade their resources, economy, and cultural identities for mere corporate greed.

We believe that, to crush peaceful dissent in such a brutal manner can only serve to undermine Indian democracy and push large sections of the Indian population to the point of desperation. At no point, in their struggle for over five years, have the anti-POSCO protestors indulged in any violent activities and have instead set an example to the rest of the country on how to carry out a democratic struggle based solely on the mass support of ordinary men and women.

We appeal to all Indian political parties and concerned citizens to oppose the Orissa government’s ill-considered and draconian action against the anti-POSCO protestors and demand the immediate withdrawal of police forces from the area. It is only through peaceful negotiations that a resolution can be found and the common people’s crumbling faith in Indian democracy restored.

Yours sincerely,

  1. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, New Delhi
  2. Medha Patkar, NAPM
  3. Arundhati Roy, Writer and Activist, New Delhi
  4. Sandeep Pandey, NAPM
  5. B Ramakrishna Raju, NAPM
  6. Praful Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Orissa
  7. Meher Engineer, Academic, Kolkata
  8. Ashok Chaudhury, NFFPFW, New Delhi
  9. Subrat Kumar Sahu, Independent Filmmaker, New Delhi
  10. Sanjay Bosu Mallick, NFFPFW
  11. Madhumita Dutta, Vettiverr Collective, Chennai
  12. Nityanand Jayaraman, Journalist, Chennai
  13. Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring, Chennai
  14. Dr Karen Coelho, Academic, Chennai
  15. Shazia Nigar, Delhi University and NAPM, New Delhi
  16. Soumitra Ghosh, NFFPFW – North Bengal Regional Committee, Siliguri, West Bengal
  17. Mamata Dash, Researcher and Activist, NFFPFW, New Delhi
  18. Amit Sengupta, Journalist, New Delhi
  19. Satya Sivaraman, Journalist, New Delhi
  20. Ravi Hemadri, the Other Media, New Delhi
  21. Manshi Asher, Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh
  22. Shalini Gera, Friends of South Asia, Delhi
  23. Shibayan Raha, New Delhi
  24. Madhu Sarin, Researcher and Activist, Chandigarh
  25. Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University
  26. Saswati Swetlana
  27. Ashish Fernandes, Bangalore
  28. Amar Kanwar, Independent Filmmaker, New Delhi
  29. B Karthik Navayan, Advocate, Hyderabad
  30. Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center
  31. Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM
  32. Maj Gen (Retd) S G Vombatkere
  33. Rashida Bee, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
  34. Champa Devi Shukla, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
  35. Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
  36. Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
  37. Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
  38. Safreen Khan, Children Against Dow Carbide
  39. K P Sasi, Independent Filmmaker, Bangalore
  40. Anivar Aravnd, Independent Filmmaker, Bangalore
  41. Kanchi Kohli, Kalpavriksh, New Delhi
  42. Latha Jishnu, Journalist, New Delhi
  43. Chanda Asani, Academic, Jaipur

...and many more concerned citizens

Police Open Fire for Illegal Mineral Robbers: The Real Story of the POSCO Project

Today, Orissa police opened fire on peaceful protesters sitting on dharna for their lands and livelihoods. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity joins other democratic forces in condemning this atrocious brutality, in which at least 50 people have been injured, markets have been burned and many more are likely to be wounded or killed. We also wish to draw attention to the following facts:

This is not just a “dispute over land acquisition for development.” The POSCO project is illegal and will not bring any benefits for the local population or the country's economy. Rather, it is simply plunder of lives and resources:

  • The POSCO project is illegal as it violates the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Under that law, no forest land can be given to anyone until 1) all the rights of the people in the area are recognised and 2) their consent is given to the project. This is the requirement of the law, acknowledged further by an Environment Ministry order of August 3, 2009. This has never been done in the area despite the people demanding it. The Central and State governments have no legal right to hand over this land to POSCO. In law, not just in public view, this is daylight robbery. Please see the attached timeline for more details.
  • The project is nothing less than a robbery of the country's natural resources by a multinational. There is no conflict between people's rights and “development” here. Despite grand talk of 51,000 crores of foreign investment, what is not mentioned is that POSCO is getting a huge amount of:
    • land: 4,000 acres for the plant, 2,000 acres for a “township”, 25 acres in Bhubaneshwar for their office, plus an unknown amount in the mining and port areas;
    • water: an estimated 12,000 crore liters from the river Mahanadi, threatening the water supply of Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack;
    • iron ore: 600 million tonnes in the form of captive mines, and a further 400 million tonnes will be “allocated';

in exchange for which it will:

  • pay essentially nothing for the water and the land;
  • pay a pittance as royalty, allowing it to make tens of thousands of crores in profits just by the difference between market prices and extraction costs (one 2005 estimate put the net profits at 96,000 crores from extraction alone);
  • practically no income and other direct taxes, as it is seeking SEZ status;
  • provide 13,000 jobs – by their own estimates, which in the case of all industrial projects have proven to be gross overestimates – while displacing around 40,000 people in the plant and port sites alone (not including the mines). More than 20,000 people will lose employment in the plant site alone.

In sum, no tax revenue, net loss of employment, no royalties, loss of 15% of India's proven ore reserves, environmental devastation and the forced displacement of 40,000 people. This is what our government considers “development.”

Today's police action shows better than any other that the government is neither concerned about law nor resources nor development – it is interested in daylight robbery. We stand by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, who are among the many unsung heroes of our country today, fighting not only for themselves and their homes but for the idea of true democracy in India.

he time line related to POSCO was not attached. See link and text below

Timeline of Events in POSCO Project Area Relating to Forest Rights

June 22, 2005: MoU signed between Orissa government and POSCO-India, subsidiary of the POSCO Corporation of South Korea. MoU pertains to an integrated iron ore mine – steel plant – private port project. Rs. 51,000 crore investment is spoken of. Critics point out that there are almost no linkages with local or national economy; operation consists of extracting iron ore while paying extremely low rates of royalty, processing into steel without paying full land, electricity, water or tax costs (due to SEZ status and use of State government's powers for all these resources), and exporting it.

MoU allocates an area of 4,004 acres for the steel plant in Jagatsinghpur District. Of this, 1,253 hectares (approximately 3,000 acres) are officially classified as forest land. However, this “forest land” is largely under cultivation by various betel vine, cashew nut and other cash crop cultivators as well as people engaged in aquaculture. Some of these people have lived in the area for over a century and most have been there for several decades. The land was classified as forest land as a result of an agitation in the 1950's demanding afforestation in the area. The main actual forests of the area are mangroves, which occupy only a small part of the “forest” land.

Due to absence of title, out of an estimated 4,000 families that will be physically displaced by the steel plant, only 270 odd are officially entitled to compensation.

August / September 2005: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti formed to oppose project. A people's blockade declared in three gram panchayat areas affected by plant. The blockade allows all persons entry and exit except government officials and POSCO employees. The Samiti calls for negotiations. No negotiations have been held till date.

December 18, 2006: Forest Rights Act passed by Parliament. Some sections that are relevant:

2(o) declares that all those living on forest land for at least three generations (75 years), as well as forest dwelling scheduled tribes, have rights under the Act

3(1)(a) recognises right to land under occupation and/or cultivation in forest areas

3(1)(c) recognises right to own, use, collect, dispose of minor forest produce

4(5) bars removal of any forest dweller without recognition of rights

5 empowers gram sabha to protect and manage forests as a statutory authority

November 29, 2007: Police and hired goondas attack PPSS dharna at one entry point with bombs – more than 50 people injured – dharna tent demolished. The protesters are driven back into one gram panchayat (Dhinkia). Police set up camps in the schools of the other two villages, deploy in heavy force.

January 1, 2008: Forest Rights Act notified into force.

August 8, 2008: Supreme Court upholds “in principle” clearance for use of forest land but directs Environment Ministry to proceed “in accordance with law.” No final clearance granted. The case is only between Orissa government, Central governent and POSCO; no opponents to the project are represented.

March 23, 2008: Gram sabha of Dhinkia passes resolution electing a Forest Rights Committee and starting process of inviting claims under the Forest Rights Act. Resolution also states the gram sabha's decision to protect the surrounding area from environmental destruction in exercise of its powers under section 5. Claism are filed, but Sub-Divisional Officer illegally refuses to accept them. The State government takes no steps to implement Act in the area. Claims are till this date with the gram sabha.

August 3, 2009: Following prolonged protest, Environment Ministry issues circular clearly stating that no application for “diversion” (i.e. clearance for non-forest use) can be made without inter alia certificates from gram sabhas of the affected area stating that:

  1. The process of implementation of the Forest Rights Act is complete and all rights have been recognised
  2. That they consent to the diversion after being informed of the nature and details of the project and rehabilitation project.

50% quorum is required. Without these requirements, the Ministry says, no final clearance can be granted.

December 29, 2009: In violation of its own circular and the Forest Rights Act, Ministry grants final clearance for diversion of forest land.

January 5, 2010: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti writes to Ministry against illegal action. CPI also raises issue, and various people's organisations protest.

January 8, 2010: Environment Ministry “clarifies” that clearance is subject to the August 3rd, 2009 circular, including “informed consent of the tribal people” (emphasis added). There are no tribals in the area, but there are people eligible as other traditional forest dwellers, who are also protected to the same extent by the Forest Rights Act. Taking advantage of this obvious and illegal loophole, POSCO responds within a few days that there are no tribals in the area. Despite the “clarification”, illegal final clearance is not withdrawn and all government officials are treating it as final.

First week of February, 2010: In response to a request from the Collector for the opinion of the gram sabhas, all three in the steel plant area pass resolutions refusing consent for diversion of forest land and demanding recognitin of their rights and power to protect forests. As per law, the forest clearance is now clearly illegal and has to be withdrawn. Despite this, till date MoEF has done nothing and the clearance is standing.

February 2010: PPSS begins a three month dharna at main entry point at Balitutha.

May 11 2010: 25 platoons of police deploy in the area. Attack on protesters expected at any moment.

May 15 2010: Attack begins. At least 50 people injured, market areas and protest camps burned, police attacking people.

Balitutha under attack, Rubber Bullets & Tear Gas Fired, 15 injured

A couple of hours back it seemed the tables have turned as more than 500 villagers previously playing a neutral role joined the movement and the DM of Jagatsingpur also announced that police would be withdrawn within an hour. News also came in that CPI leader D Raja spoke to CM Naveen Patnaik who feigned ignorance and promised would look into the matter. But barely a few hours later the police announced that the people would have to vacate Balitutha within 10 minutes or they would resort to forcefully vacating the area. The people did not budge and the police has now started firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the people. It is being said that the police is planting stories that they were first attacked by the people with hand bombs and stones which eyewitnesses say is a lie as the people are standing at least a 100 meters away from where it is difficult to pelt stones or throw hand bombs with bare hands. More than 15 people have been seriously injured. The police is rapidly advancing towards the Lakshman Rekha on Balitutha bridge. People are bravely guarding their ground.


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