MAC: Mines and Communities

Orissa police shoot POSCO protesters

Published by MAC on 2010-05-20
Source: Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Economic Times

In December 2007, Prafulla Das, a member of protest group Posco Pratirodh Samgram Samiti in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, defiantly claimed "We are committed to fight for our land, lives and livelihoods". See:

It now seems that has come true as protesters are shot by police attempting to clear the way for Korean company POSCO's steel works.

Police Open Fire for Illegal Mineral Robbers: The Real Story of the POSCO Project

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

15 May 2010

Today, Orissa police opened fire on peaceful protesters sitting on dharna for their lands and livelihoods. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity joins other democratic forces in condemning this atrocious brutality, in which at least 50 people have been injured, markets have been burned and many more are likely to be wounded or killed. We also wish to draw attention to the following facts:

This is not just a "dispute over land acquisition for development." The POSCO project is illegal and will not bring any benefits for the local population or the country's economy. Rather, it is simply plunder of lives and resources:

The POSCO project is illegal as it violates the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Under that law, no forest land can be given to anyone until
1) all the rights of the people in the area are recognised and
2) their consent is given to the project. This is the requirement of the law, acknowledged further by an Environment Ministry order of August 3, 2009. This has never been done in the area despite the people demanding it. The Central and State governments have no legal right to hand over this land to POSCO. In law, not just in public view, this is daylight robbery. Please see the timeline for more details.

The project is nothing less than a robbery of the country's natural resources by a multinational. There is no conflict between people's rights and "development" here. Despite grand talk of 51,000 crores [1 crore = 10,000 rupiah] of foreign investment, what is not mentioned is that POSCO is getting a huge amount of:

in exchange for which it will:

In sum, no tax revenue, net loss of employment, no royalties, loss of 15% of India's proven ore reserves, environmental devastation and the forced displacement of 40,000 people. This is what our government considers "development."

Today's police action shows better than any other that the government is neither concerned about law nor resources nor development - it is interested in daylight robbery. We stand by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, who are among the many unsung heroes of our country today, fighting not only for themselves and their homes but for the idea of true democracy in India.


Timeline of Events in POSCO Project Area Relating to Forest Rights

June 22, 2005: MoU signed between Orissa government and POSCO-India, subsidiary of the POSCO Corporation of South Korea. MoU pertains to an integrated iron ore mine - steel plant - private port project. Rs. 51,000 crore investment is spoken of. Critics point out that there are almost no linkages with local or national economy; operation consists of extracting iron ore while paying extremely low rates of royalty, processing into steel without paying full land, electricity, water or tax costs (due to SEZ status and use of State government's powers for all these resources), and exporting it.

MoU allocates an area of 4,004 acres for the steel plant in Jagatsinghpur District. Of this, 1,253 hectares (approximately 3,000 acres) are officially classified as forest land. However, this "forest land" is largely under cultivation by various betel vine, cashew nut and other cash crop cultivators as well as people engaged in aquaculture. Some of these people have lived in the area for over a century and most have been there for several decades. The land was classified as forest land as a result of an agitation in the 1950's demanding afforestation in the area. The main actual forests of the area are mangroves, which occupy only a small part of the "forest" land.

Due to absence of title, out of an estimated 4,000 families that will be physically displaced by the steel plant, only 270 odd are officially entitled to compensation.

August / September 2005: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti formed to oppose project. A people's blockade declared in three gram panchayat areas affected by plant. The blockade allows all persons entry and exit except government officials and POSCO employees. The Samiti calls for negotiations. No negotiations have been held till date.

December 18, 2006: Forest Rights Act passed by Parliament. Some sections that are relevant:

2(o) declares that all those living on forest land for at least three generations (75 years), as well as forest dwelling scheduled tribes, have rights under the Act

3(1)(a) recognises right to land under occupation and/or cultivation in forest areas

3(1)(c) recognises right to own, use, collect, dispose of minor forest produce

4(5) bars removal of any forest dweller without recognition of rights

5 empowers gram sabha to protect and manage forests as a statutory authority

November 29, 2007: Police and hired goondas attack PPSS dharna at one entry point with bombs - more than 50 people injured - dharna tent demolished. The protesters are driven back into one gram panchayat (Dhinkia). Police set up camps in the schools of the other two villages, deploy in heavy force.

January 1, 2008: Forest Rights Act notified into force.

August 8, 2008: Supreme Court upholds "in principle" clearance for use of forest land but directs Environment Ministry to proceed "in accordance with law." No final clearance granted. The case is only between Orissa government, Central governent and POSCO; no opponents to the project are represented.

March 23, 2008: Gram sabha of Dhinkia passes resolution electing a Forest Rights Committee and starting process of inviting claims under the Forest Rights Act. Resolution also states the gram sabha's decision to protect the surrounding area from environmental destruction in exercise of its powers under section 5. Claism are filed, but Sub-Divisional Officer illegally refuses to accept them. The State government takes no steps to implement Act in the area. Claims are till this date with the gram sabha.

August 3, 2009: Following prolonged protest, Environment Ministry issues circular clearly stating that no application for "diversion" (i.e. clearance for non-forest use) can be made without inter alia certificates from gram sabhas of the affected area stating that:

1. The process of implementation of the Forest Rights Act is complete and all rights have been recognised
2. That they consent to the diversion after being informed of the nature and details of the project and rehabilitation project.

50% quorum is required. Without these requirements, the Ministry says, no final clearance can be granted.

December 29, 2009: In violation of its own circular and the Forest Rights Act, Ministry grants final clearance for diversion of forest land.

January 5, 2010: POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti writes to Ministry against illegal action. CPI also raises issue, and various people's organisations protest.

January 8, 2010: Environment Ministry "clarifies" that clearance is subject to the August 3rd, 2009 circular, including "informed consent of the tribal people" (emphasis added). There are no tribals in the area, but there are people eligible as other traditional forest dwellers, who are also protected to the same extent by the Forest Rights Act. Taking advantage of this obvious and illegal loophole, POSCO responds within a few days that there are no tribals in the area. Despite the "clarification", illegal final clearance is not withdrawn and all government officials are treating it as final.

First week of February, 2010: In response to a request from the Collector for the opinion of the gram sabhas, all three in the steel plant area pass resolutions refusing consent for diversion of forest land and demanding recognitin of their rights and power to protect forests. As per law, the forest clearance is now clearly illegal and has to be withdrawn. Despite this, till date MoEF has done nothing and the clearance is standing.

February 2010: PPSS begins a three month dharna at main entry point at Balitutha.

May 11 2010: 25 platoons of police deploy in the area. Attack on protesters expected at any moment.

May 15 2010: Attack begins. At least 50 people injured, market areas and protest camps burned, police attacking people.

After tribal protests, Forest Act coming in the way of Posco project?

Nitin Sethi, TNN, Economic Times

19 May 2010

NEW DELHI: Even as violence has broken out in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa, the only thing preventing the Orissa government from securing the 1,253.225 hectares of forest land for Posco's integrated steel plant, ironically, is the Forest Rights Act - a legislation that many conservationists opposed initially and now find is the only point of defence left for the three villages in the eye of the storm to block the take over.

On Tuesday, the Union environment and forests ministry clarified that it had yet to give the green light to the Posco project and was awaiting clarifications from the Orissa government.

To the contrary, the state government has claimed in its correspondence with the Centre that it had completed all formalities under the Forest Rights Act and the local population had made no claims or the communities under the legislation to claim back traditional forestlands.

The Union environment and forest ministry had on December 29, 2009, given a conditional approval for diversion of the forestland for the steel plant, laying down several conditions, with the implementation of the Forest Rights Act being the key hurdle.

In reply to the conditions imposed the Orissa government claimed that there were no tribal people in the proposed ‘Posco area' either cultivating or residing in the forestland and that no other traditional forest dwellers are in cultivating possession of the land for three generations.

Tribal activists on the other hand warned that the environment ministry had erred in the first part by giving a ‘conditional' clearance to the project despite the state government not having complied with the Act, which requires the government to settle all rights in a forest area before it initiates the process of displacement for any project and seek permission of the gram sabha before displacement.

Under the Act, individuals as well as communities are permitted to file claims asking for rights over forestlands that have traditionally been theirs.

With the Orissa government having filed purported gram sabha resolutions from the area under contention supporting its moves in Oriya language the environment ministry has now asked for translations of the village resolutions.

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