Two statements on the Environment Ministry’s ‘forest clearance’ to POSCO

In response to the Union Environment Ministry’s decision, given below are two press releases, from POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti and Campaign for Survival and Dignity

POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI

(based out of villages Gadkujang, Nuagaon and Dhinkia in Erasama block of Jagatsinghpur district, Odisha. )

A Mercenary Minister and a Lying Government Cannot Crush Our People
Money Worth More to Government than Truth, Law and Justice; but the Corrupt and the Criminal Will Not Triumph

2 MAY 2011: Today, in a sanctimonious order riddled with lies and distortions, the Environment Ministry allowed thePOSCO project to proceed. The livelihoods of 4000 families (over 20000 people) and the laws of the land have been sold to the highest bidder. Certain facts should be brought to the notice of the public:

  • On July 30, 2009, the Ministry said every State government is “required to enclose” certificates from gram sabhas saying the Forest Rights ct has been implemented and that they consent to the diversion. On January 8th, 2010, the Ministry said the forest clearance for POSCO is subject to compliance with this order. But the State government has not complied with these conditions. The Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee, and the Enquiry Committee, said that the conditions have not been complied with, the Odisha government is in violation of law and the forest clearance should be withdrawn. Documentary evidence has established before three different government committees that we are eligible under the Act. What exactly has changed, except the Ministry’s decision to sell its soul in public?
  • The Forest Rights Act has not been implemented in this area. The Odisha government itself sent a letter showing that no meeting was ever held; the “resolutions” they sent were signed by 34 people (out of 1900), which is not a valid meeting under law. Under section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act, diverting forest land when the process is incomplete is a criminal offence. The Ministry itself quoted this section two weeks ago. Has the law changed between April 14th and now?
  • But the Ministry dismissed the resolutions we sent – which were signed by more than 2000 people, the hard copies of which are with them – by accepting the lies of the Odisha government that quorum was not met. What happened to the quorum when it came to the resolutions sent by the Odisha government? Does 34 people become a quorum when the government sends the letter? Does the Ministry expect the people to believe this kind of blatant nonsense?
  • The Minister states that he passed the order of July 2009 when he “was under no pressure or obligation to do so.” We beg to differ -the law required it, as not just we but everyone from the Joint Parliamentary Committee to the Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council has said. Apparently the Minister thinks he is not subject to any “obligation” to follow the law or respect people’s rights.
  • The order goes on to say that the “implementation of the FRA 2006 and August 2009 guideline is a learning and evolving process…” We are not familiar with this novel concept. A law is either followed or not followed. In this case there is an order and a law. They have not been implemented, and to allow the forest land to be taken without implementing them is a criminal offence under two laws. A crime cannot be “a learning and evolving process.”
  • This morning we asked if the Ministry sees its statutory authority as a “joke to be toyed with” by a State government that has lied about everything form whether the land was forest in 1930 to whether it has implemented the FRA. The lies are on record in black and white before the Ministry. The Minister keeps repeating that he must “repose trust in the State government.” He is charged with a responsibility under the Forest (Conservation) Act to ensure that forest land is only diverted in accordance with law and forest conservation. If he wants to “repose trust” in a State government that has lied on record to his Ministry, he is breaking his oath to the constitution and should resign.

Today is a sad day for Indian democracy. In January of this year we said that “it is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide the fate of the POSCO project, but the tears and blood of our people.” We have put our lives and our bodies on the line for six years to fight this project. We will do so for sixty more, but we will not allow this company to destroy our livelihoods, rob us of our lands and turn us into beggars so it can make super profits by taking India’s resources for a pittance.

The UPA government has again shown how little the lives or rights of people mean to it – it has torn its own “landmark law” to shreds, it is pushing a project that its own Enquiry Committee called an environmental disaster in the making, and now it tells us, through its Minister, that it is not merely “doing the right thing but doing the thing right.” History will remember these words when our people rise as one to defend justice, in the face of the bullets and crimes of this very government, and the fight for justice will go on.

CAMPAIGN FOR SURVIVAL AND DIGNITY

4 MAY 2011

As the POSCO issue has been greatly distorted by the Environment Ministry’s endless cheating and issue-twisting since December 2009, we have also put up some resources on our website to help people keep track of what has happened, and for the use of press persons (for use with the press conference called byPOSCO Pratirodh Solidarity in Delhi today). These are:

Timeline of the events in this project. Click here and scroll down to see what happened after January 31st, which is of particular interest in exposing how the Ministry constantly twisted and turned to get around the law.

A chart showing what the law actually required and what the Ministry has done, at the bottom of this statement.

A page with copies of all the representations sent by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti to the Ministry after the Ministry’s January 31st “green signal” to POSCO. These expose the acts of the Ministry quite thoroughly. The last letter alone – of May 2nd, some hours before the order – contains sufficient evidence to demolish the Ministry’s order.

What The POSCO Order Means

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

*

See also: India the Next Big Thing in Steel Production

3 thoughts on “Two statements on the Environment Ministry’s ‘forest clearance’ to POSCO”

  1. A small clarification – the second document (starting from 4 May etc.) is not from the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti but from the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (hence the fact that there’s another statement).

    Like

  2. Letter to Jairam Ramesh from
    MINING ZONE PEOPLE’S SOLIDARITY GROUP

    Dear Sir,
    We are writing (again) to you regarding the role that you continue to play in making Indian democracy into a farce that justifies its moniker as a Republic of Scams. Your official order of May 2, 2011 as Minister of Environment and Forests, clearing the diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land for the POSCO project will facilitate the addition of more than 50,000 people, currently prosperous farmers in Jagatsinghpur and neighboring regions, to the ranks of the displaced and the endemically hungry in the Republic of Hunger(1)

    This is a slap in the face of your own job description which reads: “While implementing these policies and programmes, the Ministry is guided by the principle of sustainable development and enhancement of human well-being.” Allow us to focus on just three of the numerous affronts to democracy and justice heralded by your order.

    Shameless Silencing of Citizens of Dhinkia and Gobindpur, India: Your refusal to collect reliable facts and evidence on the working of the key democratic institution of palli sabhas, and instead to sanctimoniously (2) ask the people of India to “repose trust in what the state government has so categorically asserted” (point #12 in your order) is shockingly naïve and anti-democratic in spirit and letter. It makes a mockery of the vision of decentralized governance put into place by your own party’s iconic figure, Rajiv Gandhi. As the world now knows all too well “categorical assertions” are made all the time by inveterate liars. The Government of Orissa is no exception to this rule. Alternatively, why not repose the same “trust” in the palli sabhā signatories and the sarpanch who is also an elected official? Were their assertions not as categorical? Better still, why not verify all this for yourself by holding an open palli sabhā meeting (as was offered by the people) with full media coverage and verify the reality? Since you have conveniently chosen to not do this, the world will very soon have the opportunity to see how more than 70% of the residents of Dhinkia and Gobindpur have overwhelmingly registered their resolution to not allow POSCO to take their lands (3)

    Their blood on your order must force the world to conclude that the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest’s proud claim that “citizens” are one of the “stakeholders” in your Ministry is simple sanctimony.

    The Forgotten Reports – Or How to Convene Committees and Damn Democracy: Your order rushed through the clearance to the POSCO steel project even when the indecision around the mines that are critical to the project has not yet been resolved. Indeed, your order goes against the Supreme Court expert committee recommendation which explicitly states:

    “The CEC is of the view that instead of piecemeal diversion of forest land for the project, it would be appropriate that the total forest land required for the project including for mining is assessed and a decision for diversion of forest land is taken for the entire forest land after considering the ecological importance of the area, number of trees required to be felled, adequacy and effectiveness of the R&R plan for the project affected persons and benefits accruing to the State. The diversion of forest land for the plant, without taking a decision for the linked uses particularly the mining project may not be in order” (italics added).

    If your order has summarily dismissed the claims of palli sabhas in Jagatsinghpur district, then how does it propose to dispose of the recommendations of the two previous expert committees convened by your government, the Ashish Kothari Committee and the Meena Gupta Committee both of which clearly admit that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims process is yet to be completed in the project villages? We wonder why your ministry went through the exercise of convening these committees if you did not intend to attend to their recommendations.

    Economics as Magic – The Unfounded Basis of POSCO’s Benefits: You state baldly in point #18 of your order that “…POSCO project has considerable economic significance …for state and country.” But Sir, what is the evidence for such categorical assertions? When has even one measly shred of evidence been produced by the Orissa government that stands up to any scholarly scrutiny? As we have pointed out in our yet-to-be-challenged report Iron and Steal, apart from the gross exaggerations of economic benefits of POSCO to the people of Orissa, the single study upon which the GoO and POSCO base their claims (and your government pusillanimously assents) is fundamentally flawed, flouting all norms of scientific measurements of impact assessment since it lacks a baseline economic survey, and violating all ethics of objective research since it is compromised by the fact that POSCO paid for this charade. Indeed the latest reports indicate that POSCO has generated a pitiful 42 jobs after an investment of Rs. 329 crores, a far cry from the claims of generating a flood of jobs for residents of Orissa. Is the MoEF reduced to urging a belief in magic?
    There are a host of other deeply problematic issues such as the as the threats to the Paradip port and the as yet unverified environmental impact of the project. Suffice to say that the only thing “sustainable” that your order achieves is the apparent durability of domination of the poor by the rich, of corruption by governments and mega-corporations, and the only thing “enhanced” by your order is further deterioration of the processes of democratic governance and human well-being. In light of this, your high-sounding claim to “not just do the right thing but to do the thing right” (point #19 in your order) makes us wonder what “the thing” is in your imagination?

    Ours is an international campaign in solidarity with the people of Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar and Sundargarh who have heroically and non-violently withstood the enormous might of the government of Orissa and the pressures on their life, livelihoods, health, movement and dignity for over six years. Their voices and narratives tell a tale in direct opposition to your orders and one that will ultimately be heard by the democratic listeners of the world. Giving the go ahead for POSCO will give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even more reason to worry about India’s “tainted” image as a violator of the rights of its own citizens.

    Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group, USA

    (1) India slipped further to rank 67th out of 122 countries in the Global Hunger Index in 2011. [↩]
    (2) To remind ourselves, sanctimonious means to be holier-than-thou” or “hypocritically devout” [↩]
    (3) See “The Full Story of a Sell Out on POSCO” and the letter written by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Chairperson to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on May 2, 2011 which categorically states the following: “The government has simply lied about the palli sabhā resolutions. It claims there were only 69 and 64 signatures on the resolutions, but the hard copies of the full resolution – with more than 70% quorum in both Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages – were sent by registered post A/D to all Odisha government authorities and to the Ministry. We believe that the Odisha government has deliberately used the scanned electronic copies sent to you, whose covering letter explicitly stated that only the first page of signatures was being included. The hard copies are already with you, and the veracity of their statements can easily be checked. We have already established that these are valid.” [↩]

    Like

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s