Press Statements, Open Letters on the Government’s decision on POSCO Project

January 31, 2011

Update of Anti-POSCO movement at Jagatsinghpur

February 15, 2011

On January 31, 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Govt of India gave its conditional approval to POSCO- the South Korean Company for the construction of a steel plant and captive port in Jagatsinghpur district. The MOEF out right rejected the recommendations of two expert committees, one headed by N.C.Saxena and the other by Ms Meena Gupta. Both the committees were, instituted by MoEF itself. The N.C. Saxena Committee and three members of the Meena Gupta Committee had recommended the revocation of the existing environment and forest clearances to the project. It was pointed out there are gross violations of laws and rules such as Forest Rights Act, the Coastal Zone Notification Act and the Environmental Impact Assessment guideline . In addition, two of the three statutory committees also made recommendations against the coastal and forest clearances given to the POSCO project.

In response to what it views as illegal clearance, the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti ( PPSS) is determined to intensify the struggle and has pledged not to allow POSCO project to come up.

According to one of the conditions set by the Union environment Ministry, the Government has to give an assurance that not a single person is entitled to benefits under the Forest Rights Act, and then only final forest clearance will be given by the ministry. It is reported in Media that the Jagatsinghpur district administration has already submitted a report on the status of forest rights to the state government. The government is likely to finalise the report and submit to MOEF by end of this February. It is obvious that in the report, the government will make all effort to argue that there are no other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) in the POSCO project area and no violation of Forest Rights Act 2006 has taken place. This is however quite incorrect and misleading information. The state administration had not been fair or democratic in implementing the Forest Rights Act. We have been living in these areas for ages and we all have the evidence. The two committees i.e. N.C saxena and Menna Gupta have taken notice and already accepted our evidence.

On 12th of January 2011, the Director General of Police Mr. Manmohan Praharaj and the Nodal officer for POSCO project Mr. Priyabrata Pattnaik visited the proposed port area at Jatadhar estuary. They also had a meeting with district collector, police superintendent and other officers at Jagatsinghpur. They have announced the construction of a road and wall in the proposed port area. It is apprehended that the state I all set to forcefully enter and acquire our land.

On 13th of January 2011, hundreds of villagers got together and dug the road connecting the Paradeep – Jatadhar muhan and Dhinkia village at fifteen places so that government officers would not be able to enter the area. A meeting of PPSS was held under the leadership of Abhya Sahoo to chalk out future course of the struggle.

We appeal to all our friends and well wishers to extend their support to our struggle.

In solidarity,

Prashant Paikary

Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

Mobile number – 09437571547

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Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group’s Open Letter to Minister of Environment & Forests

February 02, 2011

Dear Shri Ramesh:

We are writing to publicly challenge your shocking decision to grant a “conditional” and yet also “final” approval to the POSCO project, and to give a go-ahead to the same Orissa government and POSCO Corporation whose violations of due process have been well documented. Objections to the project have been raised not only by the project-affected people, and by environmental and social justice groups, but also by three different expert committees appointed by your own ministry. Your action exhibits profound disrespect for democratic norms, and comes as a stab in the back of the people who will be displaced and whose livelihoods will be destroyed, people who have been peacefully opposing this project for their very survival for over five years. Your action is also a slap in the face of everyone—ranging from ordinary citizens to public intellectuals to experts, including three committees that you appointed—who have been struggling to inject a modicum of transparency and democratic process into the governance of the country.

The MoEF committees, which investigated the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (“FRA”) in the three project-affected Gram Panchayats, found that the Orissa government had subverted the FRA by withholding relevant information and documents regarding other traditional forest dwellers in the region. Given this, your decision to approve diversion of forest land based solely on a “categorical assurance” by the Orissa government that all legally tenable FRA claims have been processed is confounding. We cannot understand why you would privilege the claims of the Orissa government over those of the people whose lives would be destroyed, especially when the same Orissa government has consistently shown utter contempt for the law, and disregard for its own citizens as is evident from its attempts to ruthlessly suppress peaceful protests against the project.

While the open invitation that you have effectively issued to the Orissa government to violate the FRA and forcibly remove people from their traditional lands is at the heart of what is wrong with your decision, there are other aspects that underscore your apparent capitulation to vested interests that are working against the welfare of the nation. We remind you that your own ministry’s expert committees have unambiguously pointed out the following:
• possible submergence of the thriving Paradeep port by POSCO’s proposed captive port
• exacerbation of the existing water crises in the Mahanadi delta and in Keonjhar
• grossly undemocratic public hearings characterized by threats and intimidation
• the inadequacy of the rapid environmental impact assessment studies

Given that your decision fails to address the above issues, issues that have been repeatedly placed before you by different parties, we are forced to conclude that the “additional conditions” your letter purports to impose while granting the “final” environmental clearance for the project are but a pretense. Instead of restoring democratic control over the process, you seek a post-clearance environmental risk assessment study to be undertaken by POSCO or by the Orissa government and report that to your ministry. What, Mr. Ramesh, do you expect the foxes to report to you? That the chickens are healthy and fine and clucking contentedly? In hindsight, maybe the error is entirely ours – that we expected democratic behavior from you given that through the entire period while you convened expert committees and MoEF panels, your government was working hard, even before statutory requirements had been met, to assure POSCO and South Korean government officials, including President Lee Myung-Bak, that the project will be approved. There have been reports of the “[t]he Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the External Affairs ministry and the Steel ministry hav[ing] thrown their might behind the project …” and “[g]overnment channels working overtime to clear hurdles faced by the steel giant.” Was the process you set into motion with the Saxena committee merely eyewash? Or did the “strategic” considerations you mention in your decision get imposed on you at a later stage? (There are certainly no defensible “economic” considerations that would justify the project.) The people of Orissa and of India at least deserve to know the truth of what precipitated your apparent flip-flop.

You assert that “projects such as that of POSCO have considerable economic, technological, and strategic significance for the country.” We would like to remind you, as a matter of record, that the “economic significance” of this project is severely contested, and is dubious at best. In our research report—Iron and Steal; The POSCO India Story—we demonstrated that the NCAER (National Council for Applied Economic Research) study on which all of Orissa government’s assessments of the economic benefits of the project are based, is deeply compromised. As we noted, an analysis of the NCAER report reveals that the project is indeed hugely beneficial, but only for POSCO and its investors. Indeed, the captive iron ore mines promised to POSCO in the MoU would help it recoup, in just the first 8 years, the entire sum of $12 billion which POSCO claims it will invest over a period of 30 years. If ever there was a textbook case of the country’s resources being given away, this is it.

In contrast, about 22,000 people who currently support themselves by the area’s thriving agricultural economy will be displaced and be rendered ‘unskilled’ and ‘useless’ by the new steel plant and port. An additional 20,000-25,000 people from approximately 30 neighboring gram panchayats and in the Keonjhar mining area would suffer near total loss of their livelihoods. The NCAER claims, through a maze of statistical lies that benefit its paymaster POSCO, that 8.7 lakh direct and indirect jobs will be created by the project. However, our analysis demonstrates that a maximum of 17,000 direct and indirect jobs, spread over the next 5-10 years, is all that the POSCO project will ever produce. The people affected by the project have been acutely aware of its meager benefits and high costs, and evidently do not share your view of its “considerable economic” significance.

Based upon published reports, it appears that much of the official decision-making on POSCO has been influenced by your government’s efforts to “send the right signals to the international investor community.” Must we remind you that the “international community” does not comprise just investors, nor is it safe to assume that all investors will turn a blind eye to democratic process and violations of human rights or environmental rights. Plus, there is a much larger international community that is concerned about economic and environmental justice, about human rights and self-determination, about labour standards and sustainable development, about the very survival of the much larger groups of people on whose backs rides a globalized elite that is blinded with greed. Your decision today has only helped to strengthen our resolve that we must continue to bring into focus for this much larger international community this resplendent example of the failure of Indian democracy.

These are times when ordinary people anywhere have learnt that their voices will not be heard by their own governments who are beholden to other forces, and hence think of other ways to make their all-too-reasonable anguish and needs seen and heard by those who are prepared to listen. In this context, the MoEF approval of the POSCO project sadly continues the degradation of Indian democratic institutions, a process that has already reached disastrous proportions with recent abuse of sedition laws that criminalize “disaffection” with government, and sets the stage for a bloodbath, based on what happened after the December 2009 approval and the current spate of “encounter” killings in Orissa. The world waits and watches out for that kind of an Indian democracy which would inspire confidence and send the right signals to those who matter more than anyone else – the people in whose names democratic governance exists.

Respectfully Submitted,
Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group Murli Natarajan, (973) 771-8704
Anu Mandavilli, (408) 480-5805

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Press Statement from NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTS

New Delhi, January 31, 2010: NAPM strongly disapproves the granting of the Environmental Clearance to the Steel cum captive power plant and captive minor port with an additional 28 and 32 conditions respectively today by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The clearance is a contradiction that would reduce the credibility which the Minster has earned for the Ministry for the first time and would go down in history that MoEF has supported the offences and illegalities of the Company. It completely belies the findings of the Saxena Committee and the four member committee constituted in past six months or so. Inspite of the differences in the four member committee it did agree on the environmental and CRZ violations in the earlier clearance accorded and suppression of the fact by the company as well as by the State government. While the majority of the Committee had asked for complete revocation of the clearances, the dissenting member Meena Gupta had recommended that the MOEF should consider at the earliest a comprehensive EIA to be prepared both for the steel plant and for the port.

While granting clearance to the Jaitapur Nuclear power plant Mr. Ramesh himself argued for the need of a comprehensive EIAs then why does he need to go back on his own wisdom and the recommendations of its own committees and not order a fresh comprehensive EIA. It is nothing but a case of trying to legalise the violations, which are occurring in not one but many projects and hence would be considered as bowing down to the pressures of the multinational corporations, corporate interests which various governments, across party lines are championing.

The attempted middle path at the cost of the livelihood and denying the rightful claims of the people who have been living there for centuries can’t bring development to the people of Orissa. It is by now an established fact that the Forest Right Act claims have to be settled in the region. It is astonishing that Mr. Ramesh has chosen to go back on what the State Government has always been maintaining that there are no FRA claims to be settled in the area. To give credence to the lies of the Government of Orissa and failing to mention two of his own Ministry’s reports which says that there are well found violations of the FRA and there are claims on the said forest land which needs to be settled, points to a greater conspiracy.

In the final order the condition that as soon as MoEF receives a categorical assurance from the government of Orissa that there are no claims to be settled even under the OTFDs category then the forest clearance would be granted. It is nothing but an attempt at bypassing the violations of the FRA and a pretence that Mr. Ramesh is asking for that assurance. As late as 21st October 2010 the Orissa Government has mentioned to the MoEF after the Meena Gupta Committee report that they have no claims to settle. Even though they don’t answer the violations which has been mentioned by the majority of the Meena Gupta Committee or the MoEF-MoTA Saxena Committee. We demand, rather than a clearance and assurance, action and punishment for those responsible for the violations of the implementation of FRA and settlement of the rightful claims of people, even if it means cancelling of the forest clearance.

The negligence of the struggles of the people to protect their livelihood and safeguard their forests, land, coasts and rivers in an attempt to go ahead with the POSCO steel plant, port and power plant can only be done at its own peril. This is not development but destruction and a violation of its own laws and environmental regulations. The double speak of the MoEF, Sh. Ramesh and the UPA government in seeing the natural resources of the country for the few crumbs of FDI will go down in the history as the worst crimes against the humanity. Lavasa, Jaitapur, POSCO, Kalinganagar and many more can’t compensate for one Adarsh demolition, Niyamgiri here and there.

While we do understand that a number of conditions have been put forth which indeed are also difficult to fulfil and the work cannot even start if the faithful execution of all the conditions are fully monitored. Since we know this would rarely happen, we would support the struggle of the people for their livelihood and for the environment. We reiterate our disapproval of the order of the Ministry and continue to extend full support to the struggles of the people of the region and their struggle to safeguard the environment and livelihood under the banner of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti and others and whatever position they would take on the concerned clearance.

Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Roma, Ulka Mahajan, Suniti S R, Dayamani Barla, Anand Mazgaonkar, Rajendra Ravi, Mukta Srivastava, Bhupinder Singh Rawat, Madhuresh Kumar

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POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI
Villages Gadkujang, Nuagaon, Dhinkia; Erasama Block, Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa.

A “Green Signal” for The Rape of Justice and the People: Environment Ministry Decision on POSCO

January 31, 2011

Jairam Ramesh and the UPA government have shown their true colours with their decision today on the POSCO project. Ignoring the reports of its own advisory bodies and enquiry committees, violating its own orders and the laws of the land, this Ministry has shown that the naked face of corporate greed – not the “rule of law”, the “aam aadmi”, “inclusive growth” or any of these other lies – is what rules this country. The decision today can be summarised in one sentence: “Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will.”We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project’s fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people’s resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.

We note the following about today’s decision:

The Orissa government has been asked to give an “assurance” that the people of the area are not forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, after which the “final forest clearance” will be granted. The Orissa government has already lied on this count on numerous occasions. Indeed, the majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee said “The Committee finds that the government’s own records such as census reports and voters list confirm that there are both other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) and forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes in the project area and the statement of the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur to the contrary is false” (para II.1, Conclusions and Recommendations). Even the dissenting member agreed that the Act had not been implemented. The same finding had been reached by the subcommittee of the Saxena Committee earlier. After the Ministry’s own enquiry committees have found the Orissa government guilty of lying, what is the meaning of saying the project can proceed if the liars repeat their lies?

This Ministry has earlier made a song and dance of respect for people’s views and environmental laws. Under the Forest Rights Act, the consent of the gram sabhas of the area is an essential requirement, and this was confirmed by the Ministry’s own order. Three different committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee – all therefore said the clearance should be withdrawn. The Minister today claims that the project can go ahead if he and the Orissa government decide they want it to. So much for the law and for people’s rights.

On the environment clearance, we recall again the words of the majority Enquiry Committee, which said “Potentially very serious impacts …have not even been assessed, leave alone planned for…. The cavalier and reckless attitude of the concerned authorities to such potentially disastrous impacts is horrendous and shocks the collective conscience of the Committee….There appears to be a pre dominant belief that conditionalities in the EIA/ CRZ clearances are a substitute for comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact by the authorities. Imposing vague conditionalities seems to be a way out for the various agencies from taking hard decisions on crucial issues.” Again, it is not us who said this – it is the Ministry’s own Committee! And yet this is exactly what the Minister has chosen to do.

Independent reports and studies by reputed academics have confirmed what we have always said – this project will be of no benefit to anyone except POSCO’s profit margins. But yet we find this being called a project of “strategic importance.” To whom?

Today the veil stands ripped open; the government stands exposed before the nation, a mercenary willing to put its regulations, officials and security forces at the disposal of the highest bidder. Let the UPA and the Central government answer: where is the rule of law today, in the name of which you crush struggles across the country? Where is your much vaunted love for the people and for the environment? What do you stand for if not for corporate greed?

Prashant Paikray

Spokesperson, PPSS

09437571547

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POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI

Dhinkia, Nuagaon, Gadkujang; Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa

PRESS RELEASE: 31 January 2011

Scandalous Decision of Jairam Ramesh to OK POSCO project

Environment Minister disregards findings of his own Review and Statutory Clearances Committees

The decision of Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to give a comprehensive OK to the POSCO India Steel-Power Production-Captive Port project, based on some additional conditions, is nothing short of a total sell out to the politics of power and international capital. In a climate where each and every Minister of the Union Government is tumbling over with scandals, Ramesh had stood tall taking one brave legally and ethically correct decision after another. An acid test for him to continue this streak of decision making in the wider public interest, keeping in view intergenerational interests as well, was about the POSCO project. By his decision today to clear the project Ramesh has failed not only his own legacy, but has attacked the very rule of law based decision making that he has so often been harping on to be the basis of his functioning.

It is well known that the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi, a peaceful movement of affected communities, has been systematically raising the deep, inter-generational and irreversible impacts of allowing this massive project to come up in the ecologically sensitive Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa. This struggle began with the inking of a most controversial MOU between Orissa State and Korea’s Pohang Steel (POSCO) in 2005, proposing to establish the largest industrial project ever conceived in human history: a 12 MTPA steel plant backed by captive power plant; a captive port (described as “small” but designed to receive the largest commercial ships ever built – of CAPESIZE variety); a large township to accommodate over 100000 people; a large captive mine in Kandadhar (600 MT for local processing and 400 MT for export over 30 years); fresh water intake from over 100 kms. away (while denying many towns and cities drinking water) and extensive road and rail infrastructure to support the project.

The 4000 acres of land chosen for the plant site comprise of pristine coastal and deltaic ecosystems, with active nesting sites for the critically endangered Olive Ridley Turtles and the Horse Shoe Crabs. Over a third of this land comprises of coastal forests. Over 22000 people will be directly displaced by the steel plant alone, a number that has been repeatedly disputed by Orissa Government based on its spurious claims. Absolutely no impact assessment of any academic rigour worth its salt or regulatory review of value considering the mega scale of this project, has at all been conducted to support the project is environmentally and socially useful. In fact, the so-called Rapid Environment Impact Assessment reports prepared by M/s Dastur for POSCO India, was only for 4 MTPA steel production and not for the entire project as is required by law. Clearly against statutory standards and norms, the project was still accorded environmental, forest and coastal regulation zone clearances in 2007. In addition, the Orissa Government engaged the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to cook up data claiming the benefits from the project as phenomenal, which when verified even cursorily proved to be junk statistics supporting desperate political games promoting the project.

Background to the Independent Review of POSCO by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF):

Following what is widely regarded as a politically brave but legally correct decision of Jairam Ramesh to reject on grounds of fraud the clearance accorded to the infamous Vedanta Bauxite project in Orissa during 2010, the much larger POSCO issue came into focus. After all communities affected by POSCO had been engaged for over 5 years in the most outstanding example of peaceful resistance against such unprecedented unjust development. Bending to reason, Mr. Ramesh agreed to constitute a sub-Committee under the N. C. Saxena Committee reviewing Forest Rights Act implementation, to also enquire if the POSCO project’s forest clearances were compliant with the Forests Rights Act enacted only in 2006. Producing their report the Committee put beyond any reasonable doubt that the forest clearances accorded were in comprehensive violation of the Forest Rights Act. A right step taken soon after by the Minister was to stay the forest clearance accorded – a decision taken that was taken at a time when brutal dislocation of forest dwelling communities was underway by the Orissa Government.

Subsequently, Ramesh ordered an independent enquiry into all aspects of the project’s clearance coordinated by Ms. Meena Gupta, former MoEF Environment Secretary, with Mr. Devendra Pandey (IFS, Retd.), former Director of Forest Survey of India, Mr. V. Suresh, Advocate and PUCL activist and Dr. Urmila Pingle, expert on tribal affairs, as members. Following three months of deliberate and extensive consultations, and also detailed investigation into all aspects of the clearances accorded, and on the basis of detailed verification of compliance review files the Committee by a majority decision (3:1) comprehensively rejected all the clearances granted to the project. Ms. Meena Gupta who stood up for the POSCO project, dubiously recommended additional conditions to adjust against serious statutory violations and fraud in the decision making process – a line of thinking that Jairam Ramesh now scandalously subscribes to.

In the subsequent review by Statutory Appraisal Committees of the MoEF, the Committees reviewing the Forest and Coastal Clearances recommended withdrawal of clearances granted. The only Committee that proposed a go-ahead was the one reviewing the environmental impacts under the EIA Notification. It was for Ramesh to now decide on the right steps to be taken to correct this gross injustice and irregularities in environmental decision making. In the face of extensive burden of proof of fraud involved in securing clearances for the POSCO project, the matter should legally have been to withdraw clearances accorded – as in the Vedanta case. This was the time to test the honesty of a man to stand up and uphold Constitutional and Ethical values, regardless of any and all forms of pressures. Jairam Ramesh has miserably failed this test.

Jairam Ramesh’s pro-POSCO decision:

The report presented today by Jairam Ramesh is nothing but a capitulation to corrupt forces both within India and abroad. After all POSCO, though a Korean company, is held largely by American corporations, and no less than Warren Buffet holds 5% stake in this transnational corporation. For the single largest project FDI investment in India at 2005 prices (Rs. 51,000 crores or USD 12 billion capital cost), analysis reveal that this investment can be recovered in less than a decade given the pittance of a royalty that POSCO will pay for iron ore extracted. (Rs. 30/tonne at the official ore valuation of Rs. 300/tonne, compared with the commercial value of Rs. 7,000/tonne). It is to make such unprecedented profits from the plunder of India’s natural resources that POSCO demanded a coastal location for its super large CAPESIZE ships to be berthed to cart away our precious iron ore. What India would be left with is the toxic residue of its dirty ore processing, while the refined ore (perhaps not even the finished steel) would be exported to Korea and elsewhere to add more value to POSCO’s profits. This is not merely a flight of the nation’s natural wealth but also a massive planned political exercise for erosion of financial resources with questionable legal sanction.

The POSCO episode, simply stated, shockingly resembles operations of the East India Company, only that this time it is aided not by any Victorian empire, but democratically elected Governments in Orissa and the Centre. Just as Mahatma Gandhi led India’s valiant battle against exploitation of India by the British Empire, it is time now for PPSS to actively challenge this gross violation of Constitutional Rights, Statutes and Norms, dubiously legitimised by Jairam Ramesh ignoring substantive findings of Enquiry Committees that he himselft constituted.

The struggle against POSCO in Jagatsinghpur will continue. The struggle against exploitation of tribal, farming and fishing communities of Orissa will continue. The battle to expose corruption in the Orissa Government and the Union Government (especially MoEF) will continue.

This is a struggle to expose the most corrupt and socially and environmentally disastrous deal ever legitimised in India’s history.

Abhay Sahoo, President
Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson

Press Release circulated by ESG-Bangalore at the request of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi