Outrage at Indian go-ahead for POSCO "loot"
Last week, India's Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave the final go-ahead to the POSCO steel project in Orissa. See: Scandalous Decision allows go-ahead for POSCO project
In an excoriating indictment of the decision (below), leading Indian environmental campaigner, Leo Saldanha, has laid bare the corrupt background to what he calls "the single largest steel-power-port-township and potentially mega mining project ever conceived in the history of India, and also the largest industrial project conceived in recent decades world wide".
According to Saldanha: "A review of the Environment Ministry's clearance records reveal that no other project has been accorded such hasty and favourable treatment as the POSCO project in recent times."
It's a view reflected in a statement by those directly-affected by the project, and from the National Forum for Forest Peoples and Forest Workers.
They point out that the Forest Rights Act - which supposedly respects the democratic freedoms and land rights of millions of India's poorest people - is now in jeopardy.
POSCO loot of our mineral wealth and environment is far worse than the 2G scam *
Jairam Ramesh's disastrous decision favouring POSCO comes a day after CBI exposes A. Raja's shocking loot when heading Environment Ministry
By Leo F. Saldanha
2 May 2011
Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State with independent charge for Environment and Forests in the Government of India, cleared the diversion of 3,000 acres of forest land comprising a major part of the 4,000 acres required for the POSCO Steel-power-port project in the ecologically sensitive Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa.
Jairam Ramesh's pro POSCO decision was released on the evening of 2nd May on the Ministry's website. He thus paved the way for acquisition of land for a most controversial project. However, the current decision does not take into account massive additional demands of land required for the project's industrial township and associated water, road and rail infrastructure, and also the most controversial iron ore mining component proposed in the thickly forested and mountainous Kandadhar region which is now a subject of litigation.
This project has been peacefully resisted by local communities for six years now; their staunch resistance to the project demonstrated in their refusal to allow entry of any State or company official into the affected villages. The reaction of the State has been brutal and has involved harsh police action against women, children and men, and the filing of false criminal charges against most adults in the project affected villages - some leaders have been wrongfully arrested and others falsely accused of over 40 crimes, most with serious implications to their normal day to day functioning.
All this in a vain attempt to break a fantastic peoples movement, which has resolutely remained peaceful in its methods, in a landscape that is otherwise known for violent resistance to the State's hegemonic efforts to dispossess communities from forests and farms to favour highly questionable projects benefiting the rich and large corporate houses.
"Faith and Trust" over-rides the need for rationale in decision making:
Ramesh's decision is based on an unprecedented claim of the need for "Faith and trust in what the state government says (a)s an essential pillar of cooperative federalism" (emphasis in original). The rationale he offers in taking such a position is that "(b)eyond a point, the bona fides of a democratically elected state government cannot always be questioned by the Centre" (emphasis added).
This even when Ramesh expresses what can be termed as very serious doubts about the capacity of Orissa Government to protect the interest of the State of Orissa and the people of India when he says that the POSCO "MOU had provisions for the export of iron ore which made me deeply uncomfortable with this project" (emphasis added). He also admits that he "could well have waited for the MOU to be renewed and for a final decision of the Supreme Court" which is hearing an appeal on the decision of the Orissa High Court cancelling the Orissa Government's allotment of out of turn (ignoring over 200 applicants waiting for long) and large iron ore mining permits benefiting POSCO.
The simple and plain question that cries out for an answer then, is why did he not wait?
Especially considering that the mining component of the project is an integral part of the overall scheme of POSCO? This also raises serious questions if he respects the Orissa Government more, and the Supreme Court less? What was the compelling need for him to rush to clear a project that has failed to comply with any of the conditions imposed in the clearances accorded by the Ministry in 2007? And this when the project is without sufficient legal support as the MOU of 2005, based on which most clearances are being secured, has lapsed and has not been renewed yet.
True Federalism is to respect Local Governments as equals:
Speaking in favour of POSCO and comprehensively rejecting serious well documented contestations over the legality of environmental, coastal and forest clearances accorded, Mr. Ramesh has spoken in many ways for the Government of India. After all the forest clearance was perceived as the last major hurdle for this mega project as all other Ministries (such as Coal, Mining, Finance, etc.) were merely waiting for him to make up his mind.
In deciding for POSCO, Jairam Ramesh has gone with the Orissa Govenment's claims that the Palli Sabha1 resolutions of Dinkia and Govindpur Gram Panchayats are "fraudulent" and even invested a lot of paragraphs to ensure that the Sarpanch Shishir Mohapatra who is accused by the Orissa Government of perpetuating this fraud is punished, else "the state government's argument will be called into serious question". Thus, admitting he is really not sure about the facts of this critical matter involving forest rights.
His unseemly haste to clear POSCO based on his innovative argument of "faith and trust" as an "essential pillar of cooperative federalism" also flies in the face of his recent (14th April) rejection of the Orissa Government's repeated claim that it had fully complied with and implemented faithfully the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.
His argument then was "(i)gnoring.. two Palli Sabha Resolutions and not allowing them to be subjected to a due process of law as enshrined in the Forest Rights Act, 2006 would be tantamount, in my considered opinion, to violating the very essence of this legislation passed unanimously and with acclaim by Parliament". By so endorsing the legality of Resolutions, this position was consistent with the findings of the two independent investigative committees that he had appointed.
These committees had established beyond any doubt, and on the basis of extensive legal evidence, that Orissa State had fundamentally flouted the Forest Rights Act, and other statutory procedures, in its enthusiasm to secure POSCO's interests. His latest and now unconditional "faith and trust" decision now rests on a spectacular speculative argument that simply has no place in environmental decision making, or for that matter any legal decision at all.
In the federal structure of governance in India, local elected governments are in no way inferior to the elected bodies at the State level. Ensuring such separation of powers and autonomy in functioning is the whole purpose of the Panchayati Raj Act, the Forest Rights Act and such other such provisions in the Constitution. When such is the law of the land, a Minister does not enjoy privileges of over-rating the State's position over that of a Panchayat.
Legal evidence loses out to "faith and trust":
By such arguments, the Minister has not only exposed his prejudice against claims of forest dwelling and dependent communities, operating as they are in a climate of fear, but also his utter incapacity to rigorously enforce the due process of law on the basis of uncontestable facts.
He abandons this critical exercise by saying "I have already examined the legal issues... and therefore there is nothing to be gained by seeking further legal opinion. Similarly the facts of the case... are too obvious to require any further enquiry or verification" (emphasis added). Surely, Mr. Ramesh is aware that the environmental laws are based on criminal procedure code, and that he is duty bound to spare no effort in ensuring that material submitted in seeking clearances are valid in law.
The decision has to also satisfy the test of being beyond any reasonable doubt as it directly and irreversibly affects the livelihoods of hundreds of farming and fishing families who have a very weak possibility of restarting their lives, will devastate beyond repair sensitive ecosystems and could annihilate critically endangered species. A dispute in fact must be fully and legally resolved, and should not become subject to mere opinion of the Minister. Ramesh's decisions fails on all these grounds.
Investigative Committees appointed, and their uncomfortable reports sidestepped:
When Jairam Ramesh appointed very senior and widely respected former bureaucrats and experts in two fact finding committees to investigate into all aspects of the coastal regulation, forest diversion and environmental clearances accorded to the POSCO project, there was widespread hope that he would not keel over to any pressure in this critical decision.
But this hope lasted only for a short duration. As the Committees returned with reports exposing extensive illegalities and fraud in the environmental decision making processes, Ramesh chose to sidestep these reports in his 'speaking order' of 31 January 2011. He thus supported the earlier clearances accorded by his scam tainted predecessor in the Ministry, Mr. A. Raja, who is now in Tihar Jail on corruption charges instituted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Of course Ramesh had laboured to justify his claim to being a socially and environmentally conscious Minister by adding dozens of additional conditions. But on close scrutiny these conditions appear to be mere window dressing and rely largely on rhetorical commitment from the investor towards safeguarding peoples' rights and the environment. Experience in India has repeatedly shown that such conditions are rarely complied with and violators even more rarely punished. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, many of these additional conditions articulate the need for thorough assessments and comprehensive studies into environmental and social impacts of the project. Thus exposing the widely known and undeniable fact that the earlier clearance decisions were accorded almost entirely on the lack of any relevant material.
For instance, one of the conditions speaks of the need for evaluating the high risks involved from cyclones and tsunamis in the coastal site selected for steel plant, a point not to be taken lightly following the recent Japanese experience.
This is critical considering the fact that 1,000 acres of the 4,000 acres for the steel plant will be only for dumping fly ash and sludge. Nothing is known about how POSCO proposes to contain the regional impacts of such massive storage of ash and that too in an area with super high wind energies. And there is the fundamental concern that the massive port is proposed in the Jotadhar creek, a highly sensitive area known for nesting habitats of critically endangered Olive Ridley Turtles and Horse Shoe Crabs, and as spawning grounds for fishes.
A little known fact about the port is that it will have 6 kms. long and 25 metres deep channel into the sea, whose width ranges between 250 to 500 metres. This means a lot of dredging, and almost all the time through the life of the port, as the region is known for a very high accretion of sand. What would happen to all this dredged material? What, if any, are the chances for turtles to navigate a busy shipping lane, involving the movement of the largest commercial ships ever built - as POSCO proposes to build a port allowing the berthing of 170,000 DTW carriers, known as Capesize ships because of their inability to make it through the Suez Canal and thus have to go around the Cape in South Africa. Each of these ships is a quarter of a kilometre long!
Not to be overlooked also is the fact that POSCO proposes to raise the base height of the steel plant from 0 MSL to 6 MSL. This is because it wants to protect its plant from any serious impact from anything like the 5.6 metres tidal wave that slammed this very region with wind speeds exceeding 250 kmph in the super cyclone of 1999 that left a trail of destruction and misery tens of kilometres inland.
Historical evidence points to the fact that the Jagatsinghpur region has been the epicentre of many intense cyclones, and thus this is exactly the kind of area that constitutes very high risk for shipping and industrial activity and is a site that must be avoided. There remains then the other serious issue of where all the mud and silt to raise such a large area over so many metres will come from? If it is the dredged material from the sea, clearly it will devastate the wetlands in land supporting very high productivity in paddies, prawn cultures and paan kethis (betel vine). Not to be forgotten, of course, are consequences to the local communities when they have to stare up at a steel plant towering tens of feet over them, with its smoke, ash and dust billowing all around. Their tranquil life in harmony with nature, as they now know it, will end.
In a travesty of the well-honed science of environmental decision making, the single largest steel-power-port-township and potentially mega mining project ever conceived in the history of India, and also the largest industrial project conceived in recent decades world wide, has now got the push forward on the basis of faith. By this decision Jairam Ramesh has chosen to ignore, perhaps even ridicule, the findings of the POSCO Investigative Committee appointed by him with former Environment Secretary Ms. Meena Gupta as chair.
The recommendations unanimously made by 3 of the 4 member committee, educate us on how little is actually known about the impacts of this massive project:
1. "....(T)hat in view of the glaring illegalities which render the clearances granted illegal, the EIA and CRZ clearances dated 15.5.2007 for the port and the EIA clearance dated 19.7.2007 for the steel plant should be revoked after following the due process of law.
2. The project proponent if it so desires may prepare a comprehensive EIA for both the port and the steel plant in accordance with the notifications now in force including all the various components of the project such as rail and road transportation, pipe line, township, mining, etc. for the full capacity of the plant and its components.
3. If the project proponent applies, a fresh public hearing may be conducted on the basis of the new comprehensive EIA to be prepared by the company.
4. In the meantime no body should be dispossessed of their land and since all clearances are ..prior to the commencement of construction no alterations of any nature should be permitted on ground."
Is 'strategic significance' any ground for clearing POSCO?
Enormous volumes of public monies and resources were invested in these investigative efforts, and they were meant to assist the Ministry, and the Minister, in ensuring a fair, just and correct decision was made in this mega project.
But Jairam Ramesh decided to dump all this into the trash cans of the Ministry raising serious questions about his credibility in his pro-POSCO decision of 31 January 2011 in which he claims that "(u)ndoubtedly, projects such as that of POSCO have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country" (emphasis added). Despite all of Mr. Ramesh's best efforts to avoid the risk of being accused of "filibustering", which he claims to avoid in his 2nd May pro-POSCO decision, he seems to have done exactly that. By overlooking relevant facts, and choosing to rely on the uncertain claims of the Orissa Government that it has complied with key statutory provisions, he now hopes to distract attention from the shocking finding of the Investigative Committees that serious illegalities and fraud backed key environmental clearance favouring POSCO. These are not ordinary or simple accusations for they are often the type of material for investigation into possibilities of corruption.
Such argumentation also raises serious questions about his jurisdiction in so deciding for India, when his job essentially is to ensure that Ministry of Environment and Forests is environmentally sensitive, non-corrupt, efficient and just in its decisions, and protected from extraneous influences of such factors as 'strategic significance', scale or nature of the project, who the investors are, etc.
A terrible consequence of such subjective reasoning is that it can now be applied to almost all projects: Jaitapur Nuclear power plant, Lavasa, Gundia power project, some windmills in a forest and so on. By this POSCO decision, Mr. Ramesh has irreversibly lost the opportunity of demonstrating his much proclaimed unyielding commitment to ensure the implementation of rule of law, and lack of corruption and transparency in environmental decision making. Mere sharing of documents backing his decisions does not make for a good and transparent decision. He has to demonstrate the legal and scientific rationale by which he arrived at such a decision, and this has to be on the basis of supportive evidence from subject review committees as per the law. Ramesh has chosen to overlook all these statutory requirements. This is clear demonstration that he has indeed yielded to pressures, whatsoever they might be and wherever they emerged from.
The rule of law has been sacrificed on the altars of "faith and trust" and based largely on one man's belief that the project is of "strategic significance" to India, disregarding the widely held perception that the POSCO project constitutes a loot of India's natural resources to benefit a foreign corporate.
Cleared by Raja, is POSCO not scam tainted?
A major development is that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has begun to investigate the decisions of Mr. A. Raja in according environmental clearances during his term (2004-07) as Union Minister for Environment and Forests. The allegation is that Raja liberally gave environmental clearances to 2,016 projects in a little over two years! His front man in this operation was Mr. R. K. Chandolia, then director of planning and coordination in the environment ministry. Today both are implicated in the 2G scam and are in Tihar jail.
POSCO was one of the mega projects that Raja cleared, specifically its captive port component. This decision was taken on 15th of May 2007, exactly a month after the controversial statutory Environmental Public Hearing on the project was held, which the MOEF Investigation Committees have revealed involved major human rights violations. Reports of this tainted Hearing were rushed to Delhi to fulfil a legal requirement and the port was cleared by Raja in the final hours before he transited from the Environment Ministry to his new role as Union Minister for Telecom and Communications. Normally, when such big decisions have to be taken on mega projects, no Minister risks approving them on the eve of his transition, largely to avoid accusations of corruption. But Raja was made of a different mettle, clearly.
The unseemly haste by which Raja cleared the port component of the massive POSCO project was a strong indicator of favourable decisions that were meant to follow. Ms. Meena Gupta, who took charge as Secretary of Environment Ministry on 1st June 2007, ensured that the environmental clearance to the steel plant was accorded on 19th July 2007 without much ado. At that time the Environment Ministry was without a Minister and was directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister of India - thus with little possibility of a close watch over executive decisions and accountability to the public. Despite all this evidence, or probably because of which, Ramesh appointed Meena Gupta to officiate over the Investigation Committee into POSCO that he instituted, resulting, not surprisingly, in her single dissenting note which favoured her earlier pro-POSCO decisions that she made on the basis of weak and fraudulent evidence.
It would be specious to believe now that Raja and Chandolia began their corruption racket only in the Telecom Ministry. The CBI's investigative guns are now trained on their long and corrupt politician-bureaucrat alliance, as the agency has discovered that these gentlemen favoured many projects of DB Realty with environmental clearances, a cash rich corporate house accused of benefiting enormously from the telecom scam. * Raja's reliance on Chandolia was so acute that he took him as his personal secretary to the Telecom Ministry. When it was pointed out that such an appointment of an Indian Economic Services bureaucrat was violative of law, Raja elevated him as Economic Advisor to the Minister, next only to the position of Secretary of the Ministry.
Could it be at all possible that their corrupt practices were strictly limited to benefit only DB Realty? Not POSCO or any other project?
POSCO sets a new 'race to the bottom' standard in environmental and economic regulation:
The Korean/US TNC POSCO project proposal (Warren Buffet who recently toured India has a major stake in the project) has a capital outlay of Rs. 51,000 crores (by 2005 prices) and involves production of 12 mtpa of steel. It also includes iron ore mining rights of a stupendous 600 million tonnes over 30 years, 60% of which is allowed for export to POSCO's Korean steel mills. As studies reveal, POCSO is likely to recover all of its capital investment in less than a decade, and that too only from profits from iron ore.2 With a captive port accommodating the movement of the largest commercial ships ever built, and also of a captive power plant in the steel plant, this is undoubtedly a peach of a deal for any industrial house.
The unprecedented nature of profits that accrue from such a mega project demands without any doubt a rigorous and serious scrutiny, at many levels of the Union and State governments and by independent regulators as well; far more seriously than efforts are now under way to uncover the scam in the Commonwealth Games, 2G telecom deal, Bellary mining, etc. Most regulatory agencies, though, have inexplicably chosen to not subject this project for their examination.
A review of the Environment Ministry's clearance records reveal that no other project has been accorded such hasty and favourable treatment as the POSCO project in recent times. There are tens of small, medium and large projects that have fully complied with procedural requirements, and yet do not secure environmental clearance within weeks of a Public Hearing. POSCO must have been of 'strategic significance' to Raja, else why would he rush its clearances through with such haste when so little was known of the project, its outcomes and its impacts?
Now that Jairam Ramesh has endorsed Raja's decision, it won't be long before Karnataka's Chief Minister Yeddyurappa accuses Ramesh of bias for rejecting the Gundia power plant which the former would claim is of 'strategic significance' to the state. Similarly, Goa will make a case that mining in the Western Ghats is of critical economic importance and Ramesh must have "faith and trust" in the State's assessment of its needs. Mr. Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister, has for some time now been berating Ramesh's moratorium on Monsanto's Bt Brinjal, claiming this first food GMO in India is critical to secure the future of Indian agriculture! Narendra Modi of Gujarat will spare no words in attacking the Union Government were any of his pet projects rejected.
India could have done well to avoid such propensity of pandering to investor induced pressures and the unsustainable competition between States to secure investments; at the very least in projects that have massive, serious and irreversible environmental, economic and social consequences.
CBI enquiry into POSCO is a must now:
There is simply no option now but for the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] to completely examine all decisions taken by Raja during his time in the Environment Ministry, thus not limiting the exercise to those relating to DB Realty decisions alone. This is of strategic importance to our country in light of the fact that none less than Mr. Jairam Ramesh has expressed discomfort over the unprecedented "export of iron ore" involving Capesize super tankers that POSCO proposes to employ in shipping out the ore it mines in India. Unprecedented profits are to be made from this virtually business-risk free POSCO project, and it is not an accident that there is so much cooperation between so many different political parties and levels of governments to usher it through.
As revealed in the unbelievable iron ore mining scam in Bellary **, there is far too much money to be made from mining iron ore alone in the POSCO deal. The POSCO kind of loot of non-replenishable natural resources, associated with the destruction of thousands of natural resource dependent livelihoods and the environment, is a far worse scandal than the 2G scam. Airwaves are ambient, can be reallotted and the perceived loss is essentially in money terms. Iron ore, forests, coastal areas, livelihoods, critically endangered species simply aren't renewable resources.
Jairam Ramesh was aware that the CBI had begun investigating Raja's possible corruption while in the Environment Ministry and could well have waited for the CBI to review Raja's role in the POSCO decision. But he chose not to, and announced his pro-POSCO decision the very next day after CBI began the investigation. All these circumstances demand that the POSCO project decisions must be thoroughly investigated by the CBI. It is high time that our Parliamentarians also spare some of their time in scrutinising the POSCO decisions, while also attending to the politically juicy spectrum allotment (2G) and other scandals.
Leo F. Saldanha is Coordinator of India's Environment Support Group
1 As Gram Sabhas are known in Orissa
2 Iron and Steal, by the Mining Zone Peoples' Solidarity Group, published in October 2010, provides a rigorous analysis of the super-normal profits that POSCO will make from the mining/steel project. This report is accessible at: http://miningzone.org/
* This is the so-called "2G" scam, cited in the title to this article, referring to recent illegal undercharging, by ministers and officials in the telecoms ministry, to mobile phone companies.
Urgent Appeal from POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS)
6th of May 2011
We appeal to one and all to strongly condemn the decision of the Minister of State for Environment and Forest, Govt. of India. Mr. Jaiaram Ramesh for giving final forest and environmental clearance to POSCO Company for use of 1253 hectare of forest land in our area. This clearance is given on the basis of compliance report made by the Odisha government which is factually and legally incorrect and misleading.
Mr. Jairam Ramesh and the state government of Odisha disrespected the resolution of Palli sabha (Village council) that opposed any handover of land to the proposed project. As per section 6 of the Forest Rights Act 2006 villagers of Dhinkia and Govindpur organised Palli Sabhas on 21st and 23rd of February 2011 respectively. We had sent the copies of the resolutions to the Odisha government authorities and the Environment Ministry for their information.
The government authorities deliberately suppressed facts and declared in the government's submission to the MOEF that such resolutions were fake and said that ‘only 69 and 64 signatures respectively were put in the Dhinkia and Govindpur Palli Sabha resolutions'. However, in reality, out of 2445 total number of voters in Dhinkia village, 1632 persons and out of 1907 total number of voters in Govindpur village, 1265 persons signed on the Palli Sabha Resolutions. We are attaching herewith the Palli Sabha notices, notices to Executive officer, and resolutions of Dhinkia and Govindpur village for your information. More than 65 % of the villagers participated in both the Palli Sabhas and passed the resolutions rejecting the proposal for diversion of land.
It is a matter of great concern that the Ministry of Environment & Forest in collusion with the Government of Odisha has deliberately chosen to overlook the key issues raised by us on the illegalities committed in the forest and environment clearance process. The MOEF and the Government of Odisha has fraudulently raised the issue of Palli Sabhas to sidestep statutory requirements for forest and environmental clearance.
The central issue which the ministry and the Odisha government has avoided is the compliance to the requirements under the Forest Rights Act particularly Section 4 (5) and the MOEF guidelines issued in August 2009 which obligates the state government to ensure completion of the Forest Rights Act and to obtain the consent of Gram Sabha in the areas proposed for diversion of forest land.
In fact this is the ground for the Ministry's issuing stop work order on 5th August 2010. Subsequent visit and fact finding by the Saxena committee and the Meena Gupta committee has substantiated our claim and proved beyond doubt that there are other traditionally forest dwellers in the proposed areas depending traditionally on the forests for their livelihood, that sufficient documentary evidence is available which shows the existence of forest rights (which is also available with the ministry) and that the FRA is not implemented by the state government in the area.
Based on the Meena Gupta committee's report the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has recommended withdrawal of forest clearance. The state government has been repeatedly denying the existence of tribal in the proposed project area whereas the census 2001 confirms the presence of tribal people. We have also submitted concrete evidences that there are tribals in our area who are cultivating the forest land. In July 2010, the state administration by use of force illegally occupied the land of two tribals Sh.Ramachandra Murmu and Sh. Rajendra Hembram of Polang village. There are number of other instances where the government is suppressing the facts and figures.
On 29th of April 2011, Mr. Jairam Ramesh visited Odisha and raised the questions about the raw material requirements and its sources and the new MOU with POSCO. On that particular day, we demonstrated in huge numbers and asking Mr. Ramesh to withdraw the provisional forest, environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances. But to our shock and utter surprise, on 2nd of May 2011, he gave the final forest and environmental clearance. This is nothing other than double standards shown by Jairam Ramesh who has used the smoke screen tactics to ward off people's anger while preparing for complete capitulation to interest of private profit.
The initial rejection by Ramesh of the compliance report sent by the state government (submitted on 13th April 2011) giving assurance about the non-existence of OTFDs in our area created the impression that Ramesh and the central government are respectful of law and opinion of the citizen of the country. However, the final order only exposed the true character of the Minister and the central government.
It is learnt that POSCO was one of the mega projects which was cleared by the then Minister, Ministry of Environment and Forest, A Raja. This decision was taken in haste on 15th of May 2007, exactly a month after the controversial statutory Environmental Public Hearing on the project was held, which involved major human rights violations. The unseemly haste by which Raja cleared the POSCO project was a strong indicator of favourable decisions that were meant to follow.
In view of the recent forest clearance granted by the MOEF it becomes amply clear that in addition to the violation of forest and environment clearance, the POSCO project clearance is also a part of the corruption trail of the present political set up. Hence the ongoing CBI enquiry on the corruption involved in the 2G spectrum allocation should also include the investigation into the corruptions involved in the POSCO project.
POSCO claimed to have spent R329.15 crore for the proposed Project. We want to know where and how POSCO has spent these money. We are strongly demanding a CBI enquiry to find out the details of expenses and how much money has been used to bribe the politicians and bureaucrats.
It's not quite unknown that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has been keen to see the project gets necessary clearance. The manner in which the final clearance came shows that the PM and the Environment Minister could go to any extent in disregarding the legislations passed by Parliament (FRA) and resolutions by sovereign Palli Sabha to accommodate the interest of South Korean Company-POSCO. It is now confirmed that for the sovereignty of India is at peril till Manmohan Singh, Jairam Ramesh and Naveen Patnaik (Chief Minister of Odisha) like people are holding top positions.
Jairam Ramesh's statement about ‘faith and trust in federalism' confirmed the collusion between the centre and the state against its own people. At this juncture, we appeal to all citizens to write condemnation letters to PMO, Environment Minister and Chief Minister of Odisha, and protect the rights and sovereign will of the people of India. Otherwise the day that the country is divided piece by piece by corporate cartels' to serve their greed won't be very far away, and the governments by then would have completely lost their credibility and legitimacy.
We will soon decide the future course of our democratic struggle to thwart POSCO from entering our area to protect our land and livelihoods.
Kindly circulate the appeal widely.
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Mobile no - 09437571547
Please send your letter in the following adddresses
1. Shri Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister's Office, Room number 152, South Block, New Delhi, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forest, CGO Complex, Lodi Road, Paryavaran Bhavan, New Delhi-3 email@example.com
3. Shri Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa, Address: Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Road, P.O.-Bhubaneswar, Dist.-Khurda Pin -751001(Orissa), Tel. No.(O) 0674- 2531100,2535100 (FAX) Tel. No.(R) 0674- 2590299, 2591099, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110 001, Tel: +91 11 230 74448 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +91 11 230 74448 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, Fax: +91 11 2334 0016, Email: email@example.com
5. Mr. T. Theethan, IAS, The Joint Secretary, National Commission for SC, 5th Floor, ‘B' Wing, Lok Nayak Bhavan, Khan Market, New Delhi 110103, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revoke the illegal forest clearance to POSCO
Stop lying to this country's people
National Forum for Forest Peoples and Forest Workers
2 May 2011
That the Indian Government has finally granted forest clearance to the POSCO project in Orissa shows once again that the MoEF lacks the political will to implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in right earnest; in fact, the clearance letter issued today by the Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, makes explicit that the Government will not pay even scant heed to the laws of the land.
The way our respected Minister interprets law is turning into a bad joke; his explanations for rejecting POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti's (PPSS) contention that the Palli Sabha * gave no consent to the projects are incredibly naïve-so naïve that it is impossible to believe that he himself believes that!
Mr Ramesh is welcome to his beliefs and disbeliefs: he states in bold that his belief in Orissa Government's version of events stems from his belief in federalism (whatever that may mean) and that he therefore believes there are no legitimately convened Palli Sabhas in the project area, and hence the provisions for Palli Sabha consent for forest clearance as stipulated under his Ministry's August 2009 guidelines won't apply. He supports Orissa Government's stand that the Palli Sabha resolutions submitted by the local people are false and invalid: he cites three specific reasons for this:
1. There were no quorums in the meetings of the Palli Sabha where such resolutions were taken; only a handful of villagers attended the Meetings.
2. The Palli Sabhas were not legally convened; according to the FRA Rules 2007 the Gram Panchayat should convene the Gram Sabha (here Palli Sabha), and that did not happen here; though the concerned Sarpanch certifies the resolutions, he apparently was "acting without the authority of the Gram Panchayat"! How this is proved? Because the Orissa Government says so, and disbelief in what the Government-appointed bureaucrats like the SDO and the Collector say apparently weakens our federal system, according to the respected Minister.
3. The Resolutions were not kept in the Book in prescribed format and therefore according to Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules, these are invalid.
These so-called reasons or arguments did not deserve serious response. However, because the Government of the country expressed so, and because these opinions will inevitably lead to yet more repressive actions by the Orissa Government on the agitating villagers led by PPSS, let us examine them in detail:
1. There were no quorums in the meetings of the Palli Sabha where such resolutions were taken; only a handful of villagers attended the Meetings: This is a barefaced lie. The Palli Sabha resolutions were adopted in meetings where most, if not all, villagers attended, and their signatures - which ran for more than 70 pages - were submitted to the Orissa Government as evidence. The MoEF has copies of these evidences and yet it decides to champion the blatant lies of the Orissa government.
2. The Palli Sabha not legally convened: The FRA Rules indeed say that the Gram Sabhas will be convened by the Gram Panchayat. Neither the FRA nor its Rules provides definition of the term ‘gram panchayat' and nowhere it has been stipulated or hinted that this will be bound by any state government's interpretation. In a case where the Sarpanch of the Dhinkia Panchayat himself certifies that Palli Sabha resolutions are genuine, what is the point in saying that the Palli Sabha Meetings were not legally convened?
As to the Sarpanch transgressing his jurisdiction and acting without the authority of the Gram Panchayat, what does this precisely mean? Does the FRA recognize any other Gram Panchayat authority than the Sarpanch while Gram Sabhas/Palli Sabhas are being convened? Is there any legal requirement for this?
It is clear that the Respected Minister is not too sure about this; he says that in case of the Orissa Government failing to take action against the errant Sarpanch of Dhinkia he will think that there's something amiss, and his belief in Orissa Government's veracity will be shaken. So, there is a possibility of Orissa Government's being wrong after all!
Invoking Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules unnecessarily is proof enough that both the Orissa Government and the MoEF are finding it hard to wriggle out of the FRA and the August 2009 Guidelines; when everything else fails truth has to be manufactured afresh. The contention that Palli Sabha Resolutions under the FRA have to be recorded in Books as provided by the Orissa Gram Panchayat Rules is legally untenable and invalid; these are some of the ploys that the state governments in league with a bevy of vested interests greedily eyeing the forest resources keep on using-to deny Indian forest communities their justified and legal control over the country's forests.
The FRA is a central Act and the most potent in its domain; no other central Acts, let alone state Acts can be used in overriding its provisions.
The Respected Minister apparently knows this well: his recent reply to the Maharashtra PCCF's letter on the Bamboo rights issue in Menda-Lekha shows clearly that he does not consider state Acts germane in implementation of the FRA, especially in restricting ‘rights' stipulated by the Act. He also knows, despite his new-found belief in ‘federalism', that like all Governments past and future, the Orissa Government too can lie fluently, especially where powerful corporate interests are concerned; to wit, his denial of forest clearance to the Vedanta at Niyamgiri.
The Minister wants to reassure people that he is serious about the FRA; isn't he the person who made the August 2009 guidelines? What he forgets (or, decides to forget) that the laws of a country are not toys to play with: one can't sometimes embrace them playfully, and sometimes discard, citing development priorities (Jaitapur) and other reasons (federal principles, here). The laws are there to be rigidly, strictly complied with. This compliance is not subject to any Minister's belief system, however well-meaning and important that might be.
The MoEF and the Respected Minister have been caught and trapped in their lies. On behalf of the forest communities of this country, we reject these lies and demand that the Minster immediately revokes the utterly illegal forest clearance accorded to the illegal POSCO Project.
We reaffirm our solidarity with the struggling communities working under the PPSS banner **. Any measures of repression unleashed by the Orissa Government in the wake of this dubious forest clearance will be countered not only by the people in the project area, but throughout the country.
Sanjay Basu Mullick
On behalf of the Secretariat (Ranchi)
* The Palli Sabha is a legislated meeting of all electorates of a revenue village = a small administrative area
** PPSS ( POSCO PRATIRODH SANGRAM SAMITI) - is an organisation of local people, set up to oppose the Posco project
Jairam grants final approval to Posco project
Press Trust of India/New Delhi
2 May 2011
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh today granted final approval to Orissa for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land for Posco's steel project but said the South Korean steel major should not export raw material from the proposed project.
"...In view of the state government's latest communication of April 29, final approval is accorded to the state government for diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land in favour of Posco," the Minister said in a statement here.
Ramesh, who gave the clearance to the company in January on certain conditions including ensuring of tribal rights and compensatory afforestation, said, "Posco would also bear the cost of regeneration of an equivalent amount of open, degraded land in a district to be determined and indicated by the state Government."
Observing that the MoU signed between Orissa Government and Posco in 2005 had expired last year and "has yet to be renewed," the Minister said, "I would expect that the revised MoU between the state and Posco would be negotiated in such a manner that exports of the raw material are completely avoided."
He said the expired MoU had provisions for the export of iron ore "which made me deeply uncomfortable with this project."
Clearing the decks for the biggest foreign direct investment in the country, Ramesh noted that the environment and forest clearance for the $12-billion Posco project had generated huge interest both in India and abroad.
The Minister said the project itself has "considerable economic, technological and strategic significance" for both the state and the country.
Maintaining that the laws on environment and forests must be implemented seriously, he said, "In this case, the 60 conditions imposed as part of my decision of January 31, 2011 provide a package of measures to ensure that the project will not be detrimental from an ecological and local livelihoods points of view."
"I would expect both the state and Posco to be extra-sensitive on this score," Ramesh said.
The Minister, who visited Orissa last week and held discussions with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on this issue, said he opted to repose trust in what the state government has so categorically asserted.
"Faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism," Ramesh said recalling the state government's argument that the "two supposed palli sabha resolutions" he received were not valid documents in terms of mandatory provisions of law under the Orissa Grama Panchayat Act, 1964 and Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The Minister said he had received two 'palli sabha' (village council) resolutions of Dhinkia dated February 21, 2011 and of Gobindpur dated February 23 from Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti, the opponents of the project, and he had referred the matter back to the state government.
In its reply on April 29, the state government informed the Minister that the two "resolutions" were "fake ones" and stringent action for violation of provisions of Orissa Grama Panchayat Act, 1964, would be taken against Sisir Mohaptra, Sarpanch (headman) Dhinkia.
The state government alleged that the sarpanch had "overstepped the jurisdiction vested in him and misutilised his official position" to serve the interest of Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti of which he is the secretary.
The Minister said he expects that the Orissa government would "immediately pursue action" against the Sarpanch for what it has categorically said are "fraudulent" acts and "if no action is taken forthwith, I believe that the state government's arguments will be called into serious question."