Orissa – Police enters villages to acquire land for POSCO; Intellectuals demand inquiry into POSCO clearance

May 18, 2011

Received from Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity

The callous and unaccountable Naveen government has shown it’s yet another dirty face today when the police force quietly entered Polang village in Jagatsingpur district of Odisha at wee hours to acquire land for handing over to the POSCO Company. Prior to this game-plan, the state government had informed to the media that there would be no acquision of land on 18th May 2011. Now it’s confirmed that the state government was lying to the people of the state and create a ambience of confusion for smooth acquisition and hand over of land to the said Multinational Company (MNCs). The inference: in order to protect the interest of the MNCs, the state government could play treachery with its own people who voted it to power.

Around 20 platoons of police are currently camping at Balithutha , the strategic entry point to the proposed villages area. It was informed that at around 4 a.m. today , 4 platoons of police force entered in to the Polang village and started destroying the beetle vines. The process is supervised by the district administration of Jagatsingpur and Industrial Development Corporation (IDCO). The administration is planning to destroy the beetle vines, take into control the plantations, prawn cultivation areas, agricultural lands and the homestead land of the people.

As part of `Pratirodh and Pratibad Divas’ ( Obstruction and Opposition ),the people from Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gada Kujang Panchanyats have come out in thousands and undertaking massive demonstration at Balitutha opposing the deceitful, illegal and forceful land acquisition. People are already blocking the connecting road from Balitutha to Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gada Kujanga. It may be pointed out that the police force which has gone for acquisition of land in Polanga village will return on the way connecting Gadakujanga and Balitutha. With the people determined to continue their struggle in a peaceful manner, uncertainty looms large over the attitude of the government toward the peacefully protesting mass.

With the heavy presence of the police force near Balitutha and other strategic points like Trilochanpur and sea route connecting Paradeep to Dhinkia which is empowered by the green signal to the POSCO project by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India, an unpredictable atmosphere of aggression and intimidation is created. It may be noted that section 144 has been declared by the administration at Balitutha.

Ironically, the Polanga village where forceful land acquisition is going on inhabits tribal people. Moreover, under Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA), no forest land could be acquired without the approval of Palli Sabha. The state government is therefore out rightly rejecting and dis-respecting the authority of Palli Sabha under the FRA.

It may be informed that today a demonstration is taking place MoEF (Paryavaran Bhavan), near CGO complex, New Delhi and four left parties (SUCI, CPIM(L), CPIML (New Democracy), CPIML (Liberation)) are demonstrating in Bhubaneswar against land acquisition.

At this moment of uncertainly and threat to the life and livelihood of people, we sincerely request your presence in our area to strengthen our fight against unlawful act of the government carried out at the behest of the POSCO company. We also request you write letters of opposition to Chief Minister so also call the Chief Minister to express disapproval of his policy of use of force.

In Solidarity,

Prashant Paikary

Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

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POSCO potential corruption angle should be investigated: Open letter to Prime Minister

In the context of the recent national debates on corruption, we wish to draw your attention to another ongoing case in which both State and Central officials are blatantly favouring a private multinational company – Pohang Steel Corporation (POSCO) – in violation of law. There is enough information in the public domain for us to suspect criminal collusion between this company and government officials.

The proposed POSCO steel project in Orissa is incredibly lucrative – POSCO will make an estimated profit of Rs. 1,95,000 crores over the life of the project (Rs. 6,500 crore per year after all expenses) just on the basis of having captive iron ore mines. The fact that corporates are making super profits from our natural resources is today a national issue; the faith of the public in regulatory institutions is already deeply shaken. We cannot see any difference between the recent handover of 2G spectrum and the seeming collusion in the POSCO case, where it seems that equally valuable resources – iron ore, land, water, a natural harbour – are being sought to be given to a private company “on the cheap” without complying with the law. As such, the public has a right to know what has happened. It is vital that a transparent, public investigation is held into the actions of State and Central officials in this case. A few examples of such actions are as follows:

* A criminal complaint has been filed by villagers in the proposed steel plant area against the District Collector for repeatedly lying on record. For instance, he claimed on 01.03.2011 that the land had no forest prior to 1930 – when six months earlier an Enquiry Committee had found that the government’s own maps show the villages as surrounded by forests in 1928. The Collector also claims there are no forest dwelling STs when the government’s own public notice showed compensation payments to two STs in July 2010 when a small area of land was illegally taken for the project. The criminal complaint was only filed after repeated representations to all State and Central authorities failed to elicit any action. The Environment Ministry, whose own committee had proved that these statements were false, simply carried on accepting them without a murmur.

* The behaviour of the Environment Ministry itself is deeply suspect. It is notable that the first environmental clearance for this project was given in May 2007, when A. Raja was the Environment Minister. Since then, and especially after December 2009, the Ministry has adopted a “musical chairs” approach; every time a violation has been exposed, the Ministry has shifted the focus to some other issue, trying to appear “sensitive” while condoning the illegality. Committee after committee reached the same conclusion that the Forest Rights Act had been violated; their findings were simply buried and never referred to again. Every violation of environmental law that was raised was converted into a vague “condition” and left to the company to implement. Such actions show systematic bias and a deep contempt for the law.

* According to a report in the Telegraph newspaper on April 20th, POSCO-India claims to have spent Rs. 3,000 crores on the project so far – while employing less than 80 people, and without beginning any construction. What has this money been spent on?

* The majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee exposed that minutes of official meetings were being changed to favour the company and that there was pressure from the Finance Ministry during the environment clearance process. This finding too was ignored. After giving his final decision on this project the Environment Minister gave a speech on May 6th in which he declared that he is sometimes “forced to… condone environmental violations.” Meanwhile, the requirement for the consent of the gram sabhas (village assemblies) for diversion of forest land – intended to make the process open and democratic, and the only opportunity for real public control – has been entirely ignored. To ignore democratic processes required by law, while engaging in backdoor manipulation, is a particularly noxious form of corruption.

As citizens of this country we have a right to know how and why our natural resources are being handed over to this company and why these decisions were taken. We therefore call upon the State and Central governments to:

* grant sanction for prosecution of the District Collector and ensure that the case is investigated by the CBI;
* initiate a public judicial inquiry into the actions of Central and State agencies and into expenditure by the POSCO company;
* prosecute those found guilty of criminal offences by the inquiry;
* Halt all steps to implement this project pending the completion of these processes.

Prashant Bhushan, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform
Arvind Kejriwal, Parivartan India
Swami Agnivesh, President, World Council of Arya Samaj
Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan and member, National Advisory Council
Vandana Shiva, Navdanya