Protests against MoEF’s final clearance to POSCO project – PPSS, NFFPFW, MZPSG Statements, Press Meet

May 2, 2011

Urgent Appeal from POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS)

May 06, 2011

We appeal to one and all to strongly condemn the decision of the Minister of State for Environment and Forest, Govt. of India. Mr. Jaiaram Ramesh for giving final forest and environmental clearance to POSCO Company for use of 1253 hectare of forest land in our area. This clearance is given on the basis of compliance report made by the Odisha government which is factually and legally incorrect and misleading.

Mr. Jairam Ramesh and the state government of Odisha disrespected the resolution of Palli sabha (Village council ) that opposed any handover of land to the proposed project. As per section 6 of the Forest Rights Act 2006 villagers of Dhinkia and Govindpur organised Palli Sabhas on 21st and 23rd of February 2011 respectively. We had sent the copies of the resolutions to the Odisha government authorities and the Environment Ministry for their information. The government authorities deliberately suppressed facts and declared in the government’s submission to the MOEF that such resolutions were fake and said that ‘only 69 and 64 signatures respectively were put in the Dhinkia and Govindpur Palli Sabha resolutions’. However, in reality, out of 2445 total number of voters in Dhinkia village, 1632 persons and out of 1907 total number of voters in Govindpur village, 1265 persons signed on the Palli Sabha Resolutions. We are attaching herewith the Palli Sabha notices, notices to Executive officer, and resolutions of Dhinkia and Govindpur village for your information. More than 65 % of the villagers participated in both the Palli Sabhas and passed the resolutions rejecting the proposal for diversion of land.

It is a matter of great concern that the Ministry of Environment & Forest in collusion with the Government of Odisha has deliberately chosen to overlook the key issues raised by us on the illegalities committed in the forest and environment clearance process. The MOEF and the Government of Odisha has fraudulently raised the issue of Palli Sabhas to sidestep statutory requirements for forest and environmental clearance. The central issue which the ministry and the Odisha government has avoided is the compliance to the requirements under the Forest Rights Act particularly Section 4 (5) and the MOEF guidelines issued in August 2009 which obligates the state government to ensure completion of the Forest Rights Act and to obtain the consent of Gram Sabha in the areas proposed for diversion of forest land. In fact this is the ground for the Ministry’s issuing stop work order on 5th August 2010. Subsequent visit and fact finding by the Saxena committee and the Meena Gupta committee has substantiated our claim and proved beyond doubt that there are other traditionally forest dwellers in the proposed areas depending traditionally on the forests for their livelihood, that sufficient documentary evidence is available which shows the existence of forest rights (which is also available with the ministry) and that the FRA is not implemented by the state government in the area. Based on the Meena Gupta committee’s report the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has recommended withdrawal of forest clearance. The state government has been repeatedly denying the existence of tribal in the proposed project area whereas the census 2001 confirms the presence of tribal people. We have also submitted concrete evidences that there are tribals in our area who are cultivating the forest land. In July 2010, the state administration by use of force illegally occupied the land of two tribals Sh.Ramachandra Murmu and Sh. Rajendra Hembram of Polang village. There are number of other instances where the government is suppressing the facts and figures.

On 29th of April 2011, Mr. Jairam Ramesh visited Odisha and raised the questions about the raw material requirements and its sources and the new MOU with POSCO. On that particular day, we demonstrated in huge numbers and asking Mr. Ramesh to withdraw the provisional forest, environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances. But to our shock and utter surprise, on 2nd of May 2011, he gave the final forest and environmental clearance. This is nothing other than double standards shown by Jairam Ramesh who has used the smoke screen tactics to ward off people’s anger while preparing for complete capitulation to interest of private profit.

The initial rejection by Ramesh of the compliance report sent by the state government (submitted on 13th April 2011) giving assurance about the non-existence of OTFDs in our area created the impression that Ramesh and the central government are respectful of law and opinion of the citizen of the country. However, the final order only exposed the true character of the Minister and the central government.

It is learnt that POSCO was one of the mega projects which was cleared by the then Minister, Ministry of Environment and Forest, A Raja. This decision was taken in haste on 15th of May 2007, exactly a month after the controversial statutory Environmental Public Hearing on the project was held, which involved major human rights violations. The unseemly haste by which Raja cleared the POSCO project was a strong indicator of favourable decisions that were meant to follow. In view of the recent forest clearance granted by the MOEF it becomes amply clear that in addition to the violation of forest and environment clearance, the POSCO project clearance is also a part of the corruption trail of the present political set up. Hence the ongoing CBI enquiry on the corruption involved in the 2G spectrum allocation should also include the investigation into the corruptions involved in the POSCO project.

POSCO claimed to have spent R329.15 crore for the proposed Project. We want to know where and how POSCO has spent these money. We are strongly demanding a CBI enquiry to find out the details of expenses and how much money has been used to bribe the politicians and bureaucrats.

It’s not quite unknown that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has been keen to see the project gets necessary clearance. The manner in which the final clearance came shows that the PM and the Environment Minister could go to any extent in disregarding the legislations passed by Parliament (FRA) and resolutions by sovereign Palli Sabha to accommodate the interest of South Korean Company-POSCO. It is now confirmed that for the sovereignty of India is at peril till Manmohan Singh, Jairam Ramesh and Naveen Patnaik (Chief Minister of Odisha) like people are holding top positions.

Jairam Ramesh’s statement about ‘faith and trust in federalism’ confirmed the collusion between the centre and the state against its own people. At this juncture, we appeal to all citizens to write condemnation letters to PMO, Environment Minister and Chief Minister of Odisha, and protect the rights and sovereign will of the people of India. Otherwise the day that the country is divided piece by piece by corporate cartels’ to serve their greed won’t be very far away, and the governments by then would have completely lost their credibility and legitimacy.

We will soon decide the future course of our democratic struggle to thwart POSCO from entering our area to protect our land and livelihoods.

Kindly circulate the appeal widely.

In Solidarity,

Prashant Paikary

Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

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Open Letter to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on POSCO Order, May 2, 2011

Source – MZPSG

We are writing (again) to you regarding the role that you continue to play in making Indian democracy into a farce that justifies its moniker as a Republic of Scams. Your official order of May 2, 2011 as Minister of Environment and Forests, clearing the diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land for the POSCO project will facilitate the addition of more than 50,000 people, currently prosperous farmers in Jagatsinghpur and neighboring regions, to the ranks of the displaced and the endemically hungry in the Republic of Hunger.[1] This is a slap in the face of your own job description which reads: “While implementing these policies and programmes, the Ministry is guided by the principle of sustainable development and enhancement of human well-being.” Allow us to focus on just three of the numerous affronts to democracy and justice heralded by your order.

1. Shameless Silencing of Citizens of Dhinkia and Gobindpur, India: Your refusal to collect reliable facts and evidence on the working of the key democratic institution of palli sabhas, and instead to sanctimoniously[2] ask the people of India to “repose trust in what the state government has so categorically asserted” (point #12 in your order) is shockingly naïve and anti-democratic in spirit and letter. It makes a mockery of the vision of decentralized governance put into place by your own party’s iconic figure, Rajiv Gandhi. As the world now knows all too well “categorical assertions” are made all the time by inveterate liars. The Government of Orissa is no exception to this rule. Alternatively, why not repose the same “trust” in the palli sabhā signatories and the sarpanch who is also an elected official? Were their assertions not as categorical? Better still, why not verify all this for yourself by holding an open palli sabhā meeting (as was offered by the people) with full media coverage and verify the reality? Since you have conveniently chosen to not do this, the world will very soon have the opportunity to see how more than 70% of the residents of Dhinkia and Gobindpur have overwhelmingly registered their resolution to not allow POSCO to take their lands.3 Their blood on your order must force the world to conclude that the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest’s proud claim that “citizens” are one of the “stakeholders” in your Ministry is simple sanctimony.

2. The Forgotten Reports – Or How to Convene Committees and Damn Democracy: Your order rushed through the clearance to the POSCO steel project even when the indecision around the mines that are critical to the project has not yet been resolved. Indeed, your order goes against the Supreme Court expert committee recommendation which explicitly states:

The CEC is of the view that instead of piecemeal diversion of forest land for the project, it would be appropriate that the total forest land required for the project including for mining is assessed and a decision for diversion of forest land is taken for the entire forest land after considering the ecological importance of the area, number of trees required to be felled, adequacy and effectiveness of the R&R plan for the project affected persons and benefits accruing to the State. The diversion of forest land for the plant, without taking a decision for the linked uses particularly the mining project may not be in order (italics added).

If your order has summarily dismissed the claims of palli sabhas in Jagatsinghpur district, then how does it propose to dispose of the recommendations of the two previous expert committees convened by your government, the Ashish Kothari Committee and the Meena Gupta Committee both of which clearly admit that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims process is yet to be completed in the project villages? We wonder why your ministry went through the exercise of convening these committees if you did not intend to attend to their recommendations.

3. Economics as Magic – The Unfounded Basis of POSCO’s Benefits: You state baldly in point #18 of your order that “…POSCO project has considerable economic significance …for state and country.” But Sir, what is the evidence for such categorical assertions? When has even one measly shred of evidence been produced by the Orissa government that stands up to any scholarly scrutiny? As we have pointed out in our yet-to-be-challenged report Iron and Steal, apart from the gross exaggerations of economic benefits of POSCO to the people of Orissa, the single study upon which the GoO and POSCO base their claims (and your government pusillanimously assents) is fundamentally flawed, flouting all norms of scientific measurements of impact assessment since it lacks a baseline economic survey, and violating all ethics of objective research since it is compromised by the fact that POSCO paid for this charade. Indeed the latest reports indicate that POSCO has generated a pitiful 42 jobs after an investment of Rs. 329 crores, a far cry from the claims of generating a flood of jobs for residents of Orissa. Is the MoEF reduced to urging a belief in magic?

There are a host of other deeply problematic issues such as the as the threats to the Paradip port and the as yet unverified environmental impact of the project. Suffice to say that the only thing “sustainable” that your order achieves is the apparent durability of domination of the poor by the rich, of corruption by governments and mega-corporations, and the only thing “enhanced” by your order is further deterioration of the processes of democratic governance and human well-being. In light of this, your high-sounding claim to “not just do the right thing but to do the thing right” (point #19 in your order) makes us wonder what “the thing” is in your imagination?

Ours is an international campaign in solidarity with the people of Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar and Sundargarh who have heroically and non-violently withstood the enormous might of the government of Orissa and the pressures on their life, livelihoods, health, movement and dignity for over six years. Their voices and narratives tell a tale in direct opposition to your orders and one that will ultimately be heard by the democratic listeners of the world. Giving the go ahead for POSCO will give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even more reason to worry about India’s “tainted” image as a violator of the rights of its own citizens.

Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group
USA

1. India slipped further to rank 67th out of 122 countries in the Global Hunger Index in 2011.
2. To remind ourselves, sanctimonious means to be holier-than-thou” or “hypocritically devout”
3. See “The Full Story of a Sell Out on POSCO” and the letter written by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Chairperson to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on May 2, 2011 which categorically states the following: “The government has simply lied about the palli sabhā resolutions. It claims there were only 69 and 64 signatures on the resolutions, but the hard copies of the full resolution – with more than 70% quorum in both Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages – were sent by registered post A/D to all Odisha government authorities and to the Ministry. We believe that the Odisha government has deliberately used the scanned electronic copies sent to you, whose covering letter explicitly stated that only the first page of signatures was being included. The hard copies are already with you, and the veracity of their statements can easily be checked. We have already established that these are valid.”

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New Delhi Press Conference On demand to Revoke the illegal forest clearance to POSCO

Organised by POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity (PPS) in Association with INSAF, NAPM, NFFPFW, and others

Date: May 4, 2011
Time: 3.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.
Venue: Indian Women’s Press Corp, 5, Windsor Place, New Delhi
Speakers: Amit Bhaduri, K. B. Saxena, Sumit Chakraborty, Anil K. Chaudhary, Usha Ramanathan, Ritwick Dutta, Representative from PPSS and others

Ignoring the forest dwellers’ continued protest against the POSCO Plant in Odissa, the Indian Government has finally yielded to the mounting corporate pressure. It has now given forest clearance to the project. This anti-people act of the Indian Government shows that the MoEF lacks the political will to implement Forest Rights Act in right earnest. In fact the clearance letter issued today by the Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh makes it explicit that the Government will not pay even scant heed to the laws of the land.

The claim that there were no quorums in the meetings of the Palli Sabha where such resolutions were taken is a barefaced lie. In fact the Palli Sabha resolutions were adopted in meeting attending by more than 70 per cent of villagers. The signatures of the villagers were duly submitted to Odissa Government as evidence. The MoEF does have the copies of these evidences yet it preferred to ignore them.

Similarly, the plea taken by the Government that Palli Sabhas were not legally convened is another blatant lie. Moreover, invoking Odissa Gram Panchayat Rules 1964 in this case is legally untenable and invalid. The FRA is a Central Act and most potent in its domain; no other central Acts, let alone state Acts can be used in overriding its provisions.

It seems that MoEF believes in obliging the PM rather then taking the legal and democratic rules in exercising its duties and wisdom. With this clearance to POSCO, the MoEF and Minister, Jairam Ramesh has seemingly got into a trap which they will find difficult to get out of.

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Statement by POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

Today, in a sanctimonious order riddled with lies and distortions, the Environment Ministry allowed the POSCO project to proceed. The livelihoods of 4000 families (over 20000 people) and the laws of the land have been sold to the highest bidder. Certain facts should be brought to the notice of the public:

* On July 30, 2009, the Ministry said every State government is “required to enclose” certificates from gram sabhas saying the Forest Rights ct has been implemented and that they consent to the diversion. On January 8th, 2010, the Ministry said the forest clearance for POSCO is subject to compliance with this order. But the State government has not complied with these conditions. The Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee, and the Enquiry Committee, said that the conditions have not been complied with, the Odisha government is in violation of law and the forest clearance should be withdrawn. Documentary evidence has established before three different government committees that we are eligible under the Act. What exactly has changed, except the Ministry’s decision to sell its soul in public?

* The Forest Rights Act has not been implemented in this area. The Odisha government itself sent a letter showing that no meeting was ever held; the “resolutions” they sent were signed by 34 people (out of 1900), which is not a valid meeting under law. Under section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act, diverting forest land when the process is incomplete is a criminal offence. The Ministry itself quoted this section two weeks ago. Has the law changed between April 14th and now?

* But the Ministry dismissed the resolutions we sent – which were signed by more than 2000 people, the hard copies of which are with them – by accepting the lies of the Odisha government that quorum was not met. What happened to the quorum when it came to the resolutions sent by the Odisha government? Does 34 people become a quorum when the government sends the letter? Does the Ministry expect the people to believe this kind of blatant nonsense?

* The Minister states that he passed the order of July 2009 when he “was under no pressure or obligation to do so.” We beg to differ -the law required it, as not just we but everyone from the Joint Parliamentary Committee to the Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council has said. Apparently the Minister thinks he is not subject to any “obligation” to follow the law or respect people’s rights.

* The order goes on to say that the “implementation of the FRA 2006 and August 2009 guideline is a learning and evolving process…” We are not familiar with this novel concept. A law is either followed or not followed. In this case there is an order and a law. They have not been implemented, and to allow the forest land to be taken without implementing them is a criminal offence under two laws. A crime cannot be “a learning and evolving process.”

* This morning we asked if the Ministry sees its statutory authority as a “joke to be toyed with” by a State government that has lied about everything form whether the land was forest in 1930 to whether it has implemented the FRA. The lies are on record in black and white before the Ministry. The Minister keeps repeating that he must “repose trust in the State government.” He is charged with a responsibility under the Forest (Conservation) Act to ensure that forest land is only diverted in accordance with law and forest conservation. If he wants to “repose trust” in a State government that has lied on record to his Ministry, he is breaking his oath to the constitution and should resign.

Today is a sad day for Indian democracy. In January of this year we said that “it is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide the fate of the POSCO project, but the tears and blood of our people.” We have put our lives and our bodies on the line for six years to fight this project. We will do so for sixty more, but we will not allow this company to destroy our livelihoods, rob us of our lands and turn us into beggars so it can make super profits by taking India’s resources for a pittance.

The UPA government has again shown how little the lives or rights of people mean to it – it has torn its own “landmark law” to shreds, it is pushing a project that its own Enquiry Committee called an environmental disaster in the making, and now it tells us, through its Minister, that it is not merely “doing the right thing but doing the thing right.” History will remember these words when our people rise as one to defend justice, in the face of the bullets and crimes of this very government, and the fight for justice will go on.

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Statement from NFFPFW

That the Indian Government has finally granted forest clearance to the POSCO project in Orissa shows once again that the MoEF lacks the political will to implement the Forest Rights Act in right earnest; in fact, the clearance letter issued today by the Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, makes explicit that the Government will not pay even scant heed to the laws of the land. The way our respected Minister interprets law is turning into a bad joke; his explanations for rejecting POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti’s (PPSS) contention that the Palli Sabha gave no consent to the projects are incredibly naïve—so naïve that it is impossible to believe that he himself believes that!

Mr Ramesh is welcome to his beliefs and disbeliefs: he states in bold that his belief in Orissa Government’s version of events stems from his belief in federalism (whatever that may mean) and that he therefore believes there are no legitimately convened Palli Sabhas in the project area, and hence the provisions for Palli Sabha consent for forest clearance as stipulated under his Ministry’s August 2009 guidelines won’t apply. He supports Orissa Government’s stand that the Palli Sabha resolutions submitted by the local people are false and invalid: he cites three specific reasons for this:

1. There were no quorums in the meetings of the Palli Sabha where such resolutions were taken; only a handful of villagers attended the Meetings.

2.The Palli Sabhas were not legally convened; according to the FRA Rules 2007 the Gram Panchayat should convene the Gram Sabha (here Palli Sabha), and that did not happen here; though the concerned Sarpanch certifies the resolutions, he apparently was “acting without the authority of the Gram Panchayat”! How this is proved? Because the Orissa Government says so, and disbelief in what the Government-appointed bureaucrats like the SDO and the Collector say apparently weakens our federal system, according to the respected Minister.

3. The Resolutions were not kept in the Book in prescribed format and therefore according to Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules, these are invalid.

These so-called reasons or arguments did not deserve serious response. However, because the Government of the country expressed so, and because these opinions will inevitably lead to yet more repressive actions by the Orissa Government on the agitating villagers led by PPSS, let us examine them in detail:

1. There were no quorums in the meetings of the Palli Sabha where such resolutions were taken; only a handful of villagers attended the Meetings: This is a barefaced lie. The Palli Sabha resolutions were adopted in meetings where most, if not all, villagers attended, and their signatures – which ran for more than 70 pages – were submitted to the Orissa Government as evidence. The MoEF has copies of these evidences and yet it decides to champion the blatant lies of the Orissa government.

2. The Palli Sabha not legally convened: The FRA Rules indeed say that the Gram Sabhas will be convened by the Gram Panchayat. Neither the FRA nor its Rules provides definition of the term ‘gram panchayat’ and nowhere it has been stipulated or hinted that this will be bound by any state government’s interpretation. In a case where the Sarpanch of the Dhinkia Panchayat himself certifies that Palli Sabha resolutions are genuine, what is the point in saying that the Palli Sabha Meetings were not legally convened? As to the Sarpanch transgressing his jurisdiction and acting without the authority of the Gram Panchayat, what does this precisely mean? Does the FRA recognize any other Gram Panchayat authority than the Sarpanch while Gram Sabhas/Palli Sabhas are being convened? Is there any legal requirement for this?

It is clear that the Respected Minister is not too sure about this; he says that in case of the Orissa Government failing to take action against the errant Sarpanch of Dhinkia he will think that there’s something amiss, and his belief in Orissa Government’s veracity will be shaken. So, there is a possibility of Orissa Government’s being wrong after all!

Invoking Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules unnecessarily is proof enough that both the Orissa Government and the MoEF are finding it hard to wriggle out of the FRA and the August 2009 Guidelines; when everything else fails truth has to be manufactured afresh. The contention that Palli Sabha Resolutions under the FRA have to be recorded in Books as provided by the Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules is legally untenable and invalid; these are some of the ploys that the state governments in league with a bevy of vested interests greedily eyeing the forest resources keep on using—to deny Indian forest communities their justified and legal control over the country’s forests. The FRA is a central Act and the most potent in its domain; no other central Acts, let alone state Acts can be used in overriding its provisions.

The Respected Minister apparently knows this well: his recent reply to the Maharashtra PCCF’s letter on the Bamboo rights issue in Menda-Lekha shows clearly that he does not consider state Acts germane in implementation of the FRA, especially in restricting ‘rights’ stipulated by the Act. He also knows, despite his new-found belief in ‘federalism’, that like all Governments past and future, the Orissa Government too can lie fluently, especially where powerful corporate interests are concerned; to wit, his denial of forest clearance to the Vedanta at Niyamgiri.

The Minster wants to reassure people that he is serious about the FRA; isn’t he the person who made the August 2009 guidelines? What he forgets (or, decides to forget) that the laws of a country are not toys to play with: one can’t sometimes embrace them playfully, and sometimes discard, citing development priorities (Jaitapur) and other reasons (federal principles, here). The laws are there to be rigidly, strictly complied with. This compliance is not subject to any Minister’s belief system, however well-meaning and important that might be.

The MoEF and the Respected Minister have been caught and trapped in their lies. On behalf of the forest communities of this country, we reject these lies and demand that the Minster immediately revokes the utterly illegal forest clearance accorded to the illegal POSCO Project.

We reaffirm our solidarity with the struggling communities working under the PPSS banner. Any measures of repression unleashed by the Orissa Government in the wake of this dubious forest clearance will be countered not only by the people in the project area, but throughout the country.

Issued by

Sanjay Basu Mullick

On behalf of the Secretariat (Ranchi)

NFFPFW