Guest post by MADHUMITA DUTTA
Policemen deployed at the proposed Posco site in Jagatsinghpur, June 2011
As I read the ‘sustainability-commitment’ page on the website of Posco India Ltd, I was reminded of the images of a morning in a village square in the Ersama block of Jagatsingpur district in the Orissa. On April 1, 2008, Balithutha, a small village square, became the battle ground as hundreds of women, men, young and old tore down with their bare hands a 20 feet high bamboo barricade erected by the district police. An act of defiance by people who came in hundreds, mustering whatever they had—courage, fear, rage—to battle a giant – Posco Steel company of South Korea and the state of Odisha. They came to say ‘we disagree, we oppose’ the plans to take over the lands that we have farmed for generations. That day the sound of their voices and ululations reverberated from the small village square of Balithutha to the offices of the powerful.
But then some seem not to have heard it. Or maybe have chosen not to hear it?Posco India’s claim of ‘the approach towards the land securing process has been consensual and peaceful with regard to the local community’ sits a bit uncomfortably with the facts on the ground. If things were so ‘consensual’, then why thousands of villagers of Jagatsinghpur who have been opposing the project since 2005 when the Memorandum Of Understanding was signed between Posco and Odisha state government face hundreds of criminal cases; why most of these men and women cannot step out of their villages for fear of arrests; why since 2005 the state government of Odisha has not been able to acquire the 4004 acres of land that it has promised to give to Posco Steel company to set up a 12 million metric tonnes per annum steel plant? Surely a ‘fair land acquisition process’, a commitment ‘to first safeguard the human rights and livelihood of innocent villagers’ does not include beaten bloodied bodies and bullets. Or does it? Maybe one needs to carefully read Posco’s statement which states ‘Posco….rejects/deplores any unlawful violence against them (villagers)’. The key word being ‘unlawful’. Does it mean ‘lawful’ violence is allowed? Does it mean that if the state deems a population to be ‘unlawful’, then it can use ‘lawful violence’ to discipline them?
Are the villagers of Jagatsinghpur, who have tilled, farmed and lived on this land ‘unlawful’ in their assertion to not part with it , and the state government ‘lawful’ when it claims that it has a ‘sovereign’ rights over the land which its deems to be ‘government land’? If one wants to simply argue on technical ‘legal’ grounds then is the government of Odisha ‘lawful’ when it decides to override the resolutions passed by Dhinkia and Gobindpur palli and gram sabhas not to allow diversification of forest land empowered under Section 5 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006? Out of 3566 acres of ‘government’ land, 2958.79 acres is forest land that is proposed to be acquired for Posco.
The battle between the little people and the giant seems endless as the state government of Orissa attempts yet again to acquire the contested land. If one were to keep one’s ear to the ground, one can quite clearly hear what the ‘consensus’ is — ‘Posco go back’.
But can Posco hear it?
Or is it steely in its resolve to manufacture a ‘consensus’ that suits it?
Madhumita Dutta is a member of Vettiver Collective Chennai, Tamil Nadu