Orissa – Statement on the current situation in the anti-POSCO resistance villages

August 4, 2013

Statement from Sanhati, PUDR, WSS, AIFFM, NSI and MZPSG

We are gravely concerned about the developments related to the proposed mining and steel plant project by POSCO in Orissa. While the residents of Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa have been resisting forcible land acquisition and the establishment of the POSCO steel plant that threatens complete destruction of their livelihoods and local environment, the GoO has announced the conclusion of the land acqusition process for the POSCO project. This declaration can only be understood in the context of the repressive conditions created by the GoO in which trumped up charges and periodic episodes of violence are the norm

After previously unsuccessful attempts, on February 3rd, 2013, the police invaded Gobindpur village in Jagatsinghpur to resume forcible land acquisition. These operations were temporarily suspended on account of strong resistance from the villagers and protests from outside. Barely a month later, on March 2nd, 2013, mercenaries hurled bombs on a meeting room of anti-POSCO activists at Patna village, Dhinkia, Jagatsinghpur in the presence of nearly 6 platoons of police who were readying for the forceful land acquisition procedure. These bombs killed three anti-POSCO activists and critically injured one other person. Instead of investigating and condemning the violence inflicted on the people of Jagatsinghpur, the state has reprehensibly concocted a story that places the blame on those who were murdered. To date there has been no official investigation of the incident.

On 5th March, 12 platoons of armed police led by the District Collector and Superintendent of Police re-entered Gobindpur and destroyed more than 25 betel vine fields, which form the basis of a lucrative local economy. Since then the village of Gobindpur has become a de facto police camp from which the state and hired goons are carrying out nefarious activities, including intimidating those resisting the project. Residents of Gobindpur have had to contend with numerous confrontations with the police and other agents determined to destroy their betelvines and construct a wall demarcating land for the POSCO project.

On July 4th, the GoO and the media reported the acquisition of the 2700 acres of land required for the steel plant. However, in the palli sabha meeting of Govindpur and gram sabha meeting of Dhinkia panchayat on October 18, 2012, more than 2000 residents unanimously voted against diversion of land for the POSCO project under provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006. The government has not paid heed to the intense opposition to this project by local farmers and fisherfolk. Nor has there been any significant investigation into the repeated use of violence (documented by many national and international human rights organizations) by the police and local goons against the protestors. Over the past several months, more than 1000 betelvines were torn down under duress and against the will of the villagers in a situation of psychological intimidation with the imminent threat of physical violence by state and non-state actors. The use of violence was also used to intimidate and silence dissenting voices during public hearings regarding the project. Further, the MoU with the state government lapsed in 2010 and the environmental clearance granted to the project was suspended by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on March 30th, 2012. Since then the NGT has ordered cessation of land acquisition multiple times, which has been ignored by the local and state administration. Thus land acquisition for the POSCO project has not only been brutal and undemocratic but also illegal. It subverts fundamental constitutional guarantees and Acts of parliament, and which are also in direct contravention of peoples’ will.

We emphasize that the local people possess knowledge on resource use and management, inferior to none and that they have a right to earn a decent livelihood based on this knowledge.

We condemn in no uncertain terms these attempts to facilitate “growth” and “development” that are in direct opposition to the interests of the common people, in whose name public resources are being looted, traded and sold.

We demand the following:

(1) immediate withdrawal police from the villages;
(2) an end to the destruction of betel vines and other livelihoods;
(3) restoration of betel vines and compensation for the losses suffered by those whose livelihoods have been affected; and
(4) putting an end to this project.