This statement about today’s events in Jagatsinghpur, Odisha, comes from the CAMPAIGN FOR SURVIVAL AND DIGNITY
Today, more than a thousand armed police besieged the gram panchayat of Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur District of Orissa to crush the resistance to the POSCO steel plant. For the entire day thousands of people sat in the heat, where several people (including children) and even two policemen fainted. At noon the Collector declared their protest “unlawful” and subsequently loudspeakers blared threats about use of tear gas, lathi charges, “those engaging in unlawful protests being dispersed” continuously for four hours. Efforts were made to divide the protesters as well. The protesters remained firm. Eventually, perhaps afraid of the heavy media presence and unable to break the will of the people, the police withdrew. The people have left some of their number on guard, fearful of the police’s return at any time.
This is not just a “conflict over land acquisition”, and it certainly is not an “engineered protest” or a “law and order problem created by a few” that the Odisha government keeps trying to claim it is. The point here is very simple – if in fact this project is as beneficial for the people as it is claimed to be, and if the majority actually support it, why could the government never produce a single resolution of consent from any of the gram sabhas of these villages? Why did it never implement the Forest Rights Act in the area, and why did the Environment Ministry engage in such contortions to avoid rights recognition and a vote by gram sabhas? Why, when they were presented with real resolutions with a two thirds majority, did the Minsitry and the Orissa government simply lie in order to get around them?
The answer is clearly that they knew that the people do not support the project. Behind this simple fact lies many other issues that also bear examination. POSCO has been shown to have no economic benefits; it has been established, by MoEF’s own Enquiry Committee, that it has potentially devastating environmental impacts; and the State government has been shown to have lied on record. There has been a comprehensive, systematic, and deliberate collusion between Centre, State and POSCO to defraud the law, violate the rights of the people and cheat the nation in order to benefit a private company.
None of this is unique to POSCO, of course. Across the country, hundreds of projects are being cleared in violation of the Forest Rights Act and the land and forests of lakhs of people are being grabbed. When challenged, the Environment Ministry is now brazen enough to not even deny the crime; it proclaims that it is “learning and evolving” how to follow the law. POSCO and projects like it are demonstrations of how horrifically wrong our process of resource management is, and of the kind of crimes happening across the country today in the name of “development” that benefits only the companies involved.
The people standing guard on the border of Dhinkia gram panchayat, like their counterparts in so many other struggles, are not just defending their lands; they are defending the ideal of a society where human dignity is not regarded as expendable in the face of private profit. In the coming days, we all need to stand with them.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
forestcampaign at gmail.com