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Big news – at times – go completely unnoticed.

(Thanks to the mediatised times we are passing through)

And thus it did not appear surprising that the decision by Posco, the South Korean steelmaker, the fourth biggest in the world, to exit the proposed 12 million-tonnes a year steel plant in Odisha did not cause much flutter. Yes, newspapers duly reported POSCO India’s ‘request to the Odisha government to take back the land provided to it near Paradip’ where it was supposed to invest 52,000 croreRs.’ The letter stated company’s ‘failure to start work on the proposed plant’.

Perhaps none from the media wanted to showcase a negative example which is at variance with the efforts by the powers that be to project the idea of ‘ease of doing business’ here. Undoubtedly at a time when the government is keen to attract foreign capital and inducing it in very many ways, the way in which a Corporate Major – supposed to be one of the leading in the steel sector – had to exit from its project can easily shake their confidence about investing here. Or was it to cover up the fact that over the years how the South Korean Steel Major had dealt a heavy blow to the local environment by felling down more than eight lakh trees at the project site and residents are demanding accountability and compensation over such large scale environmental destruction.  What is more disturbing has been the fact that while the Union Environment Ministry never gave permission to cut the trees the MNC with due help from the local administration and law and order machinery went ahead with it. A case has been filed before the National Green Tribunal about this issue. (http://www.orissapost.com/residents-demand-compensation-for-rampant-tree-felling-by-posco/)

Question arises why did POSCO decide to quit despite receiving continued support from the central as well as the state government? Remember the company had been handed over 1,700 acres of land by the Odisha state for the project and around 1,000 acres of land was still lying with the state which it had acquired for the project. In fact, the Odisha government went ahead with the forcible land acquisition for the steel plant despite the fact that POSCO did not have an environmental clearance for the project. And also the environmental clearance given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on January 31, 2011 had also been suspended by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on 30 March 2012.

Whether it had a ‘change of heart’ about concerns expressed by local people – who were leading and continuing with the struggle which was billed as one of the ‘largest social movements in recent times’ – about the devastation it had brought out in the lives of the people or the company decided to become ‘green’ and decided to discontinue the project.

Definitely not.

Capital or capitalists never get moved by such humanitarian concerns ( which are exhibited by lesser mortals like us). Soul of capital or capitalists rest in profit only. It is the sole criterion for it to make decisions. (As an aside if capital/capitalist would have been really ‘moved’ by human misery neither we would have seen giant armament factories manufacturing weapons of death or and human trafficking becoming ‘lucrative’ business or crores of children slogging out on peanuts).

It is now history how the proposed project witnessed resistance by masses since its inception- which was spontaneous first and which later coalesced into formation of PoscoPratirodhSangramSamiti – since the state government signed an MOU with POSCO in June 2005 to set up a steel plant on 4,004 acres of land in Kujang at a plan outlay of `54,000 crore. The project was then claimed as the ‘largest investment by any multinational in the country.’

The mass movement which compelled the company to scrap its project altogether – wherein people showed exemplary courage, determination and creativity was led by activists of CPI and other progressive formations – had to face brutal repression at the hands of the goons of the management which were in connivance with the police and administration.A statement issued by PoscoPratirodhSangramSamiti (http://icrindia.co.in/mydirectory/2017/03/24/update-from-posco-pratirodh-sangram-samiti-ppss/) hailing the victory tells how four persons associated with the movement were martyred during the struggle and scores have been injured, how ‘several leaders of the movement have been jailed multiple times’ and how ‘more than 2000 warrants have been issued against the people and more than 400 false cases both men and women have been registered at the Kujang police station since 2005.’

Excerpt of a memorandum submitted by various organisations and individuals who had organised a protest in Delhi against killing of anti-Posco activists and forcible land grabbing makes it clear the intensity of violence perpetrated by the corporate–police-goonda nexus in the region to suppress the voice of the people. It said :

On 2nd March, hired musclemen of POSCO with the full complicity of Odisha Police threw bombs at anti-POSCO activists in Patana village, in which 4 activists were killed and several others were seriously injured. Out of the 4, 3 were killed as a direct consequence of the police’s refusal to arrive at the spot for 15 hours after the bombing, or arrange for an ambulance to take the injured to a hospital. ..(http://nsi-delhi.blogspot.in/2013/03/protest-held-in-new-delhi-against_10.html)

And it cannot be denied the support garnered by the movement outside the affected area also proved helpful in reaching out to a large cross section of people and create a favourable public opinion. (http://nsi-delhi.blogspot.in/2013/02/demonstration-outside-indian-embassy.html)

It is noteworthy that the victory achieved by the united struggle of peasants, fisherfolks, forest dwellers to protect their land, livelihood and environment is breath of fresh air for all fighting forces in this part of the world where one finds a strange co-existence of Corporate Interests and Religion centred exclusivist politics..

But while celebrating this victory we should also bear in mind that while Posco has quit the project the issue of land acquired and transferred to Posco still remains. Odisha’s Industry minister has told the assembly that the land will be kept in a land bank and plans are being made to fence the land. As rightly pointed out by PoscoPratirodhSangramSamity it is “illegal, undemocratic, anti-peasants, and unwarranted” and the state government “must follow the Supreme Court decision on the pattern of Singur where land of farmers acquired by Tata’s Nano plant in West Bengal was returned to them.” (http://icrindia.co.in/mydirectory/2017/03/24/update-from-posco-pratirodh-sangram-samiti-ppss/)

Another important issue is related to chopping down of thousands of tress – like mangroves, cashew nut, betel vines, fruit bearing trees – in the project area and adjoining villages. These trees had played a key role in 1999 Super Cyclone when because of the vast green cover and sand dunes, while thousands of people from nearby villages perished, people in this area remained unaffected. Now with the cutting of trees, these villages have also become vulnerable to cyclones. While substituting the natural forest looks impossible, what the government can easily do is pay compensation to these concerned villagers who remained dependent on these trees. and initiate a campaign to plant eco-friendly trees in the region.  One can be sure that people of Jagatsinghpur and adjoining areas who humbled a big corporate major with their collective efforts can as well compel the government to concede to their demands.

As rightly said by legendary revolutionary Che Guevara, people united are always victorious.

 Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010)  Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI)  Email : subhash.gatade@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    This is victory of people …! They will celebrate!
    This is defeat of the capitalists and the rulers ..! They will ‘ ruminate ‘ …!
    They capitalists are always strong even after the people’s victory ( as Lenin said) and they can strike back with vengeance ….( We have sent standing Rock) and so, while celebrating, prepare to face enemy with united struggle and firm resolution …. Kudos for the achievement and revolutionary greetings !
    The struggle is not yet over and road of final victory is still far away ..

  2. Pingback: As Posco exits steel project, Odisha is left with thousands of felled trees and lost livelihoods - Ecologise