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Nation's Conscience Must Be Awakened To Anti-POSCO Struggle

By Concerned Citizens

08 June, 2011

Tackling corruption must begin by scrapping the scandalous POSCO project

The brutal police action unleashed by the UPA Government on Baba
Ramdev's fasting camp in Delhi has shocked the nation’s conscience;
even the Hon'ble Supreme Court has taken suo moto cognisance of the
blatant disregard for fundamental rights, and questioned the
Government raison de d’etre to so quell dissent. Most mainstream
political parties have jostled with each other to gain attention in
condemning the incident; and this has by far been the only issue
covered and debated non-stop by the electronic and print media for
some days now.

However, little or nothing is being said or done about a far more
serious situation that is developing in Jagatsinghpur district of
Odisha, where villagers of Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Patana, etc., are
resolutely and peacefully opposing the forcible acquisition of their
private and forest lands by the Odisha Government for the benefit of
South Korean steel major POSCO. Over the past few days, at least 26
platoons of riot police (over 1,000 police personnel) have been
deployed to ruthlessly beat down women, children, the aged, and men
who have kept a day/night vigil and not allowed any State functionary,
police or company official to enter these villages; thus continuing a
phenomenal act of peaceful resistance to POSCO venture, sustained for
six years now under the leadership of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi.

Brutal police tactics, criminal intimidation and illegal methods are
being employed here to wrest from these peacefully protesting
villagers 4000 acres of extraordinarily fertile agricultural and
forest land to establish the single largest industrial foreign
investment conceived in recent times. The project involves the
establishment of a mega steel plant (12 MTPA), backed by a massive
coal-fired thermal power plant (400 MW expandable to 1,100 MW), and a
major captive port for handling the world's largest cargo ships
(Capesize, usually more than a quarter km. in length).1 The project
involves further land acquisition for a captive iron ore mine
requiring 6,100 acres of predominantly forest land in Khandadhar Hills
of Sundergarh district and at least 2,000 acres more for a massive
gated township to house POSCO employees. In addition, there would be
dedicated water, road and rail linkages that will further exacerbate
the displacement and environmental destruction caused by the project.

POSCO: A scandal far bigger than 2G scam

It is high time the nation's conscience is affected by what the
project affected communities are suffering under the hands of the
Navin Patnaik regime in Odisha. It is time to appreciate the fact that
the POSCO project is perhaps the most shocking example of corrupt
practices legitimised by State support. This is because the project is
nothing short of a legalised loot of our natural resources – iron ore
in this case. In an unprecedented deal, Indian and Odisha Governments
have supported POSCO's demands to mine 600 million tonnes of the
finest iron in India on a 30-year lease. Of this, 30% can be exported
for processing in POSCO's Korean plants and thus endorsing
profiteering abroad! With current fine iron ore rates crossing Rs.
8,000/tonne, it is simple arithmetic to note that POSCO can recover
its capital investment of Rs. 52,000 crores in less than eight years,
an unthinkable proposition in any industrial venture! Truly, the POSCO
venture is a scandal far worse than those involving 2G and
Commonwealth Games.

In fact, A. Raja, principal accused in the 2G scam, may have
facilitated POSCO's entry when as Indian Environment Minister in 2007
he accorded the first major statutory clearance by approving the
captive port component, one day before he transited to the Telecom
Ministry. This was done without any review and also in response to
severe pressure from then Union Finance Minister Chidambaram. Various
key environmental and forest clearances quickly followed, all by
subverting laws and breaking down the massive industrial/mining
venture into little parts to hide their true environmental, social and
economic consequences.

Three years later when Jairam Ramesh, the sitting Environment
Minister, ordered a comprehensive review of these clearances by
setting up two independent investigations, both committees confirmed
that the clearances had been secured by fraud and subterfuge, and
strongly recommended withdrawal of these illegal approvals. The
appropriate action that the Minister should have taken was to cancel
these fraudulent clearances and initiate criminal action against all
involved in the POSCO decisions. Such action would have been true
evidence of the oft-made claim by the UPA Government that it is
serious about tackling corruption.

Instead, Jairam Ramesh claimed he was working towards “cooperative
federalism” and on the basis of his “faith and trust” in the Odisha
Government approved the project's environment and CRZ clearances on 31
January 2011 and subsequently the forest clearance on 2nd May. This
was despite absolute evidence that the Forest Rights Act had been
fundamentally violated by deliberately overlooking Gram Sabha
resolutions (convened by the constitutionally empowered Panchayats in
the project affected villages) that clearly rejected the project.
Ramesh, thus, became a party to the fraud in environmental
decision-making and also directly responsible for the dangerous
situation that is developing in the POSCO affected villages today.

We fear that the exigent State police action that is now underway in
these villages may result in another Kalinganagar or Nandigram type of
situation. The scant attention paid by mainstream political parties,
the media and the public is only strengthening the Navin Patnaik
Government to disregard Constitution norms and act ruthlessly to
secure lands for the advantage of POSCO.

In an effort to prevent such a carnage from taking place, various
eminent people in the country have intervened and appealed to the
Prime Minister of India to “immediately ask the Odisha government to
halt this illegal attack, to withdraw all clearances given in
violation of law, and to take an impartial position in the court cases
filed by the people. Failure to stop this attack will show that the
UPA government's much vaunted concern over issues of displacement,
forest rights and "inclusive growth" is simply an eyewash.” A copy of
this appeal is enclosed.

While endorsing these demands, we additionally urge that:

The Odisha Government must immediately withdraw its police operations
and forcible acquisition of land for POSCO.

The Central Bureau of Investigation must immediately expand the scope
of its ongoing investigations against A Raja by reviewing his role in
the POSCO clearances, and that of all those who have been involved in
illegally promoting this scandalous project, possibly including then
Finance Minister and presently Home Minister, Chidambaram.

The scandalous POSCO project must be scrapped as its benefits will be
accrued mainly by major American financiers (including Warren Buffet)
who are major stockholders of this South Korean company.

Issued by: Environment Support Group (Bangalore), Campaign for
Survival and Dignity, National Forum of Forest People andForest
Workers (NFFPFW), National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM),
Delhi Solidarity Group, All India Progressive Women’s Association
(AIPWA) and All India Students' Association (AISA)


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