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What The POSCO Order Means

By Campaign For Survival And Dignity

04 May, 2011

The order on the POSCO project is condemnable in more ways than one. The basic principle is simple. The forest land and resources are not the private property of the government that it can give away. They belong to the people, the 4000 families who have rights. This is why the Forest Rights Act says no forest land can be taken from people using it until the process under the Act is complete. To allow POSCO to take it in this manner is no different than any other form of robbery.

As for whether the Act was in fact implemented, there's no need to take our word for it: the Ministry itself says it was not implemented in the order. On page 2, employing wonderfully legal language, the Minister says "I am forced to conclude that there is no valid gram sabha resolution under section 6(1)...." Section 6(1) is the first step in the process of implementing the Forest Rights Act (please refer to the Act ; the section is quite clear). If nothing was ever done under it, the Act was not implemented. In other words, the Minister himself says the Act was never implemented in this area , and therefore his order is in violation of section 4(5) of the Act (the language of the section is again very clear). The State government keeps trying to claim the people are not eligible, but this was settled long ago through the various enquiry committees; in any case, how can anyone's eligibility be decided without implementing the law?

Having said that the Act was not implemented, the Minister makes much of his order of July 2009 on compliance with the Forest Rights Act. Perhaps he can show the public a single major case in which it has been implemented; it certainly was not implemented in this one. However, apparently we would be mistaken if we thought this is a violation. For, having admitted to breaking the law, the Minister informs us that neither he nor his Ministry needs to follow the law; there is another alternative, called "learning and evolving" how to follow the law. This is a concept that many of his fellow Ministers and recent ex-Ministers would recognise.

But the FRA is not the only thing that has happened in this project. POSCO is a rare case where a concerted effort by a people's struggle, honest official committees, and worldwide support showed that this project is an environmental disaster, riddled with legal violations and a net loss to the country's economy . From Seoul to New York to Delhi to Bhubaneshwar, people have protested, thousands have shown their support, and voluminous documentation has been produced. As we write this a divestment campaign is underway in the US and Korean union leaders and human rights activists are planning actions. At the centre of it all has been the heroic struggle of the people of the area, who have stayed unified in the face of bombs, violence, police firings and endless brutality.

But of course none of this was enough for the Environment Ministry, the Odisha government or the UPA. The POSCO struggle has exposed the rotten core of the Indian state - its desperate desire to appease private capital, the hollowness of its pretensions to democracy and the rule of law, and the meaninglessness of its talk of "inclusive growth" and "development." We have just witnessed an uproar over issues of corruption. But beyond the suitcases of money kind of corruption, POSCO exposes that our system itself is corrupt.

Of course, the struggle against POSCO is far from over. The fight for justice goes on. But if there were any myths left about "green laws", "green Ministers" and "aam aadmi policies", it's time to give them a quiet, decent burial.

Chart: What Was Required, What Happened

What Was Required Who It Was Required / Recommended By What Ministry Did
Implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the project area Forest Rights Act Violated law and stated that on record
Consent of the gram sabhas to diversion of forest land, gram sabha certification of FRA completion Forest Rights Act, Ministry order July 30 2009 Violated law and stated that on record
Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment of project EIA notification, also unanimously recommended by Enquiry Committee (including dissenter) as project is "potential environmental disaster" Ignored
Assessment of impact of enormous water withdrawal for plant EIA notification, unanimously recommended by Enquiry Committee No assessment; no condition on this; Jan 31st order falsely states that there is a condition that project should "voluntarily sacrifice" water in case of shortage, which in any case has no legal meaning
Assessment of impact on marine ecology of private port; thousands depend on fisheries for their livelihood Orissa Coastal Zone Management Authority; majority of Enquiry Committee; Ministry EAC on Infrastructure Ignored
Likelihood of district-wide devastation in case of cyclone; assessment of disaster management Regional MoEF office; unanimous Enquiry Committee recommendation Condition says company should make a plan; no one knows who will look at this plan and what it will have
Impact of private port on sand dunes, which are critical for local ecology and saved thousands of lives in 1999 cyclone Regional MoEF office; majority Enquiry Committee recommendation Impact never assessed; there is just a condition says "port shall be built without disturbing sand dunes", meaning it will have to be built in mid air
This is only a sample. There are many more



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