A “Green Signal” for The Rape of Justice and the People: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti

The following is the statement issued by the POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI on the latest decision of the Environment Ministry on POSCO. The image below from an earlier round of land acquisition attempt is a telling illustration of how the ‘free market’ functions. Received via Shankar Gopalakrishnan.

Courtesy The Hindu
Land being acquired for POSCO. Image courtesy The Hindu

Jairam Ramesh and the UPA government have shown their true colours with their decision today on the POSCO project. Ignoring the reports of its own advisory bodies and enquiry committees, violating its own orders and the laws of the land, this Ministry has shown that the naked face of corporate greed – it is not the “rule of law”, the “aam aadmi”, “inclusive growth” or any of these other lies – that rules this country. The decision today can be summarised in one sentence:”Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will.”

We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project’s fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people’s resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.
We note the following about today’s decision:

The Orissa government has been asked to give an “assurance” that the affected people of the area are not forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, after which the “final forest clearance” will be granted. The Orissa government has already lied on this count on numerous occasions. Indeed, the majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee said “The Committee finds that the government’s own records such as census reports and voters list confirm that there are both other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) and forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes in the project area and the statement of the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur to the contrary is false” (para II.1, Conclusions and Recommendations). Even the dissenting member agreed that the Act had not been implemented. The same finding had been reached by the subcommittee of the Saxena Committee earlier. After the Ministry’s own enquiry committees have found the Orissa government guilty of lying, what is the meaning of saying the project can proceed if the liars repeat their lies?

This Ministry has earlier made a song and dance of respect for people’s views and environmental laws. Under the Forest Rights Act, the consent of the gram sabhas of the area is an essential requirement, and this was confirmed by the Ministry’s own order. Three different committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee – all therefore said the clearance should be withdrawn. The Minister today claims that the project can go ahead if he and the Orissa government decide they want it to. So much for the law and for people’s rights.

On the environment clearance, we recall again the words of the majority Enquiry Committee, which said “Potentially very serious impacts…have not even been assessed, leave alone planned for…The cavalier and reckless attitude of the concerned authorities to such potentially disastrous impacts is horrendous and shocks the collective conscience of the Committee….There appears to be a predominant belief that conditionalities in the EIA/ CRZ clearances are a substitute for comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact by the authorities. Imposing vague conditionalities seems to be a way out for the various agencies from taking hard decisions on crucial issues.” Again, it is not us who said this – it is the Ministry’s own Committee! And yet this is exactly what the Minister has chosen to do.

Independent reports and studies by reputed academics have confirmed what we have always said – this project will be of no benefit to anyone except POSCO’s profit margins. But yet we find this being called a project of “strategic importance.” To whom?

Today the veil stands ripped open; the government stands exposed before the nation, a mercenary willing to put its regulations, officials and security forces at the disposal of the highest bidder. Let the UPA and the Central government answer: where is the rule of law today, in the name of which you crush struggles across the country? Where is your much vaunted love for the people and for the environment? What do you stand for if not for corporate greed?

Prashant Paikray
Spokesperson, PPSS
09437571547

6 thoughts on “A “Green Signal” for The Rape of Justice and the People: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti”

  1. Statement from Campaign for Survival and Dignity
    http://www.forestrightsact.com

    On January 31st the Environment Ministry finally gave its long delayed decision on the POSCO project. The brazen chicanery of this decision is already well known. It asks the Orissa governmen,t already caught lying, to lie again, and promises a forest clearance in exchange; it imposes wonderfully meaningless conditions, such as the craven request that the company “voluntarily sacrifice” water which does not belong to it; and it violates the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. All this is hardly surprising from a government that has shown time and again that it cares a fig for the rights of people.

    But the true message of this decision has nothing to do with the “environment” alone. It is quite simple: when a government is faced with real democracy, when it confronts organised people’s power, it will brush aside law, constitution and environment to destroy it. POSCO, the government and the business media all agreed on one point – how could they possibly accept that people themselves could decide on the fate of a project? How could they tolerate the idea – now required by law – that the project could not take forests and forest lands without the consent of the local community? Bring on the guns and the numbers – 51,000 crores, etc. etc. – to justify brazen illegality. Never mind that an international study exposed that this project will destroy far more livelihoods than it creates. Never mind that an official enquiry committee said “such attempts, if allowed to succeed, will result in neither development nor environmental protection, but merely in profiteering.” Who needs to know the facts when bigger issues are at stake. The key question that jarred our nation’s “best minds” was – who are these people to say we cannot take their resources? So what if the law is on their side?

    Today land and forests are too important to be left to democracy and the rule of law. Even as the resource grabbing proceeds apace, a great charade has been played out in the media between our supposedly “green” Environment Minister and our supposedly “anti-green” industrialists, all of whom, however, agree at the end: they must control the decisions, not the people. Even when they don’t, they will act like they do; thus, after six years of determined people’s resistance to POSCO, the entire media today talks as if the only opponent of POSCO in India was the Minister. January 31st exposed this “debate” for what it always was: a farcical dance between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On the one side, a Ministry whose only consistent act has been to deny people’s rights; on the other, a big business class that knows only too well that the state is on its side (as a CII representative said, “We know most clearances get through”) but likes to deflect the debate away from the issues and on to personalities.

    After the Vedanta mining decision, we called it “a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words.” That betrayal has come true today. Whatever law, democracy and human rights exist in this country are a reflection of the struggles of people. The “rule of law” is upheld by resistance, not by the state. The same is true of environmental protection; it was people’s resistance that stopped Vedanta and it is people’s resistance that will stop POSCO. At least now let us not hear of “green” Ministries and caring policies; the mask has been torn off to show the face of pitiless greed underneath.

  2. Mr. Jairam Ramesh
    Hon’ble Minister of Environment & Forests
    Paryavaran Bhavan
    CGO Complex
    Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003

    Dear Shri Ramesh:

    We are writing to publicly challenge your shocking decision to grant a “conditional” and yet also “final” approval to the POSCO project, and to give a go-ahead to the same Orissa government and POSCO Corporation whose violations of due process have been well documented. Objections to the project have been raised not only by the project-affected people, and by environmental and social justice groups, but also by three different expert committees appointed by your own ministry. Your action exhibits profound disrespect for democratic norms, and comes as a stab in the back of the people who will be displaced and whose livelihoods will be destroyed, people who have been peacefully opposing this project for their very survival for over five years. Your action is also a slap in the face of everyone—ranging from ordinary citizens to public intellectuals to experts, including three committees that you appointed—who have been struggling to inject a modicum of transparency and democratic process into the governance of the country.

    The MoEF committees, which investigated the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (“FRA”) in the three project-affected Gram Panchayats, found that the Orissa government had subverted the FRA by withholding relevant information and documents regarding other traditional forest dwellers in the region. Given this, your decision to approve diversion of forest land based solely on a “categorical assurance” by the Orissa government that all legally tenable FRA claims have been processed is confounding. We cannot understand why you would privilege the claims of the Orissa government over those of the people whose lives would be destroyed, especially when the same Orissa government has consistently shown utter contempt for the law, and disregard for its own citizens as is evident from its attempts to ruthlessly suppress peaceful protests against the project.

    While the open invitation that you have effectively issued to the Orissa government to violate the FRA and forcibly remove people from their traditional lands is at the heart of what is wrong with your decision, there are other aspects that underscore your apparent capitulation to vested interests that are working against the welfare of the nation. We remind you that your own ministry’s expert committees have unambiguously pointed out the following:
    • possible submergence of the thriving Paradeep port by POSCO’s proposed captive port
    • exacerbation of the existing water crises in the Mahanadi delta and in Keonjhar
    • grossly undemocratic public hearings characterized by threats and intimidation
    • the inadequacy of the rapid environmental impact assessment studies

    Given that your decision fails to address the above issues, issues that have been repeatedly placed before you by different parties, we are forced to conclude that the “additional conditions” your letter purports to impose while granting the “final” environmental clearance for the project are but a pretense. Instead of restoring democratic control over the process, you seek a post-clearance environmental risk assessment study to be undertaken by POSCO or by the Orissa government and report that to your ministry. What, Mr. Ramesh, do you expect the foxes to report to you? That the chickens are healthy and fine and clucking contentedly? In hindsight, maybe the error is entirely ours – that we expected democratic behavior from you given that through the entire period while you convened expert committees and MoEF panels, your government was working hard, even before statutory requirements had been met, to assure POSCO and South Korean government officials, including President Lee Myung-Bak, that the project will be approved. There have been reports of the “[t]he Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the External Affairs ministry and the Steel ministry hav[ing] thrown their might behind the project …” and “[g]overnment channels working overtime to clear hurdles faced by the steel giant.” Was the process you set into motion with the Saxena committee merely eyewash? Or did the “strategic” considerations you mention in your decision get imposed on you at a later stage? (There are certainly no defensible “economic” considerations that would justify the project.) The people of Orissa and of India at least deserve to know the truth of what precipitated your apparent flip-flop.

    You assert that “projects such as that of POSCO have considerable economic, technological, and strategic significance for the country.” We would like to remind you, as a matter of record, that the “economic significance” of this project is severely contested, and is dubious at best. In our research report—Iron and Steal; The POSCO India Story—we demonstrated that the NCAER (National Council for Applied Economic Research) study on which all of Orissa government’s assessments of the economic benefits of the project are based, is deeply compromised. As we noted, an analysis of the NCAER report reveals that the project is indeed hugely beneficial, but only for POSCO and its investors. Indeed, the captive iron ore mines promised to POSCO in the MoU would help it recoup, in just the first 8 years, the entire sum of $12 billion which POSCO claims it will invest over a period of 30 years. If ever there was a textbook case of the country’s resources being given away, this is it.

    In contrast, about 22,000 people who currently support themselves by the area’s thriving agricultural economy will be displaced and be rendered ‘unskilled’ and ‘useless’ by the new steel plant and port. An additional 20,000-25,000 people from approximately 30 neighboring gram panchayats and in the Keonjhar mining area would suffer near total loss of their livelihoods. The NCAER claims, through a maze of statistical lies that benefit its paymaster POSCO, that 8.7 lakh direct and indirect jobs will be created by the project. However, our analysis demonstrates that a maximum of 17,000 direct and indirect jobs, spread over the next 5-10 years, is all that the POSCO project will ever produce. The people affected by the project have been acutely aware of its meager benefits and high costs, and evidently do not share your view of its “considerable economic” significance.

    Based upon published reports, it appears that much of the official decision-making on POSCO has been influenced by your government’s efforts to “send the right signals to the international investor community.” Must we remind you that the “international community” does not comprise just investors, nor is it safe to assume that all investors will turn a blind eye to democratic process and violations of human rights or environmental rights. Plus, there is a much larger international community that is concerned about economic and environmental justice, about human rights and self-determination, about labour standards and sustainable development, about the very survival of the much larger groups of people on whose backs rides a globalized elite that is blinded with greed. Your decision today has only helped to strengthen our resolve that we must continue to bring into focus for this much larger international community this resplendent example of the failure of Indian democracy.

    These are times when ordinary people anywhere have learnt that their voices will not be heard by their own governments who are beholden to other forces, and hence think of other ways to make their all-too-reasonable anguish and needs seen and heard by those who are prepared to listen. In this context, the MoEF approval of the POSCO project sadly continues the degradation of Indian democratic institutions, a process that has already reached disastrous proportions with recent abuse of sedition laws that criminalize “disaffection” with government, and sets the stage for a bloodbath, based on what happened after the December 2009 approval and the current spate of “encounter” killings in Orissa. The world waits and watches out for that kind of an Indian democracy which would inspire confidence and send the right signals to those who matter more than anyone else – the people in whose names democratic governance exists.

    Respectfully Submitted,
    Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group

    Murli Natarajan, (973) 771-8704
    Anu Mandavilli, (408) 480-5805

  3. “The central principle that must be enshrined in any sustainable development strategy is that incentives facing all economic decision makers must encourage them to act in a manner that is environmentally benign.

    The solution lies in two dimensions. First, we must put in place a structure of regulatory policies which will prevent potentially damaging behaviour. This is what we do by setting regulatory standards and enforcing them. I must emphasise that standards are not enough. They must also be enforced which is often difficult. It is also necessary to ensure that these regulatory standards do not bring back the License Permit Raj which we sought to get rid of in the wake of economic reforms of the early nineties…”

    – Manmohan Singh, receiving the Sustainable Development Leadership Award from TERI at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

    In 1992, as Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh said in a lecture on `The environment and the new economic policies’ that the environment is `here and now’ for the majority of people in India. Nevertheless, he strongly defended his policies, saying that greater allocation to the environment and poverty alleviation would only be possible if there was higher private and foreign investment in the economy. 19 years on, Manmohan Singh has graduated to Prime Ministership and has practically become a stooge of corporates, mesmerised by double-digit growth rates at any cost.

  4. Asian Age wrote a fairly well-reasoned edit on 2 February:
    Posco’s go-ahead: Questions remain

    I have some cautions. PPSS wages a valiant struggle but the solidarity among the Left is missing. Is it because PPSS convenor Abhay Sahu is a state secretariat member of CPI in Odisha. PPSS is not at all a CPI mass front, Naxalites should note. A sympathiser of PPSS lamented at a chance meeting in Kolkata a couple of months back about the strange ‘revolutionary acrobatics” (his words) of CPI(ML) Liberation. Just before the previous MoEF order against Posco, “the party went around saying that the CPI coalesced with Biju Patnaik by nominating Bibhu Prasad Tarai for Jagatsingour Loksabha seat with BJD support and so people should be on aller. The party which has no base in Odisha but was openly resorting to a divisive policy to rope in some from the PPSS fold. The strategy failed” ( all what he exactly said).

    He had a point.

    The latest issue of ML Update(Vol. 14, No. 06, 01 – 07 FEBRUARY 2011)
    castigated the UPA II government rightly. It states, “On the heels of Republic Day, the Ministry of Environment and Forests cleared the notorious POSCO project in Odisha – in spite of the fact that three separate committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Forest Advisory Committee – set up at the behest of the Ministry itself have testified to rampant and deliberate violations of the Forest Rights Act by the project.
    The various ‘conditionalities’ which accompany the Ministry’s
    clearance of the POSCO project are nothing but a flimsy piece of
    fiction to hide the fact that in India today, corporations are a law
    unto themselves, with a licence to loot in brazen violation of laws to
    protect the environment and people’s rights. The POSCO and Odisha
    Government are being given a green signal by the UPA Government on
    their ‘assurances’ to comply with environment and forest rights laws
    that they have already violated and lied about”.

    Very good, but not a word in support of PPSS.

    Is this Marxism or Mao Zedong Thought?

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