MAC: Mines and Communities

India: POSCO protests successful - for now

Published by MAC on 2011-06-28
Source: NDTV, Deccan Herald, Reuters, Economic Times

Orissa's state government has suspended action to forcibly remove villagers resisting the takeover of their land for POSCO's massive iron and steel project. See: Resisting India's Great Iron Ore Heist

Meanwhile, however, the company has started construction elsewhere on another part of the project.


Orissa stalls land acquisition for Posco's steel project

By Sampad Mahapatra


21 June 2011

Bhubaneshwar - The Orissa government has stopped the land acquisition process for Posco's proposed $12-billion steel plant after opposition from locals.

Children prepare to resist POSCO eviction
Children prepare to resist POSCO eviction. Source: The Hindu

The decision comes after thousands of villagers protested against the land acquisition, with women and children forming human rings at Govindpur this month. They were opposing the final clearances, the environment ministry gave for the project.

Abhay Sahoo, chairman of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti said, "I think it's a victory of the people, victory of the peaceful and democratic movement against the government-sponsored onslaught and violence and I think the Centre should withdraw the project from here."

Large-scale presence of children forming human barricades at Govindpur and images of children lying on hot sand caused the biggest embarrassment to the state government. The department of women and child department now wants to proceed against the parents of these children on grounds of child abuse.

Anjali Behera, women & child development minister said, "This is unethical, illegal and undesirable. We have asked district officials to submit a report on whether children have been forced by their parents or other people or threatened to form barricades."

Exactly six years after Korean steel giant POSCO signed an MoU with the Orissa government for a Rs. 52,000 crore project, the mega venture has hit a roadblock. The protesters want to observe it as a Black Day on Wednesday.

The Orissa High Court will hear a petition challenging the forest clearance given by the MoEF to the 2,900 acre of forest land in violation of the rights of local people under the Forest Rights Act.

Orissa to go ahead with Posco project on acquired land


Deccan Herald

21 June 2011

Amid stiff opposition to the Posco project in Orissa, the state government on Tuesday announced the start of the project-related work in the acquired areas of Jagatsinghpur while suspending further land acquisition process temporarily at other places.

"We have already acquired about 1,800 acres for the proposed Posco plant near Paradip and are beginning project-related work in the area acquired by the government," Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters here. Preliminary work like cleaning and levelling of the land will now taken up to make the area fit for launch of construction of the Rs 52,000-crore mega project.

Announcing a temporary end to the land acquisition process, Additional District Magistrate (Paradip) Sarojkant Choudhary said: "For the time being the administration will focus on preparing the acquired area ready for the construction of the plant. In the meantime, talks are on with various groups to facilitate resumption of land acquisition." The foundation stone has already been laid for a rehabilitation colony for displaced people near Polanga and Noliasahi in Gadakujang gram panchayat where the district administration of Jagatsinghpur has acquired land.

Meanwhile, Communist Party of India MP Gurudas Dasgupta joined the agitation at Jagatsinghpur on Tuesday along with local villagers and protesters and assured the people of raising their grievances in parliament in the upcoming monsoon session.

Dasgupta said: "The Naveen Patnaik administration is out to sell Orissa to multi-national companies. The state government does not have any sympathy for the people. We are going to raise the Posco issue in Parliament during the coming session."

Earlier, a team of left parties led by Dasgupta visited the Dhinkia-Govindpur area of the coastal Jagatsinghpur district where the local villagers had been protesting against the land acquisition process launched by the district administration for the multi-crore South Korean steel plant.

Cracks in pro-Posco group as Orissa govt fails to break resistance

By Nageshwar Patnaik

Economic Times

20 June 2011

BHUBANESWAR: Orissa government is finding it difficult to acquired land for Posco's Rs 52,000 crore steel project as anti-displacement brigade gained strength from political parties and social activists with Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patker on Monday visiting Dhinkia, the entry point to the proposed plant site on Monday and lending her support to protester.

Last week social activists Swami Agnibesh visited Dhinkia and warned the government of any violence against peaceful protest. Mrs Patker also made it clear that the government just could not bulldoze the human barricade by the villagers unwilling to leave their land. The BJP delegation also visited the site and the Congress also has lent its support to the protest.

What is still worse is the fact that cracks have surfaced in the pro-Posco group with majority from it lending support to the resistance. The district administration, which planned to resume land acquisition on Monday, once again deferred its decision to break open the human barricade at the entry point to Posco project area.

Welcome to POSCO country: India's fight for investors

By Matthias Williams


24 June 2011

DHINKIA, India - For eight-year-old Rakesh Bardhan, it is protest time.

Decked out in a black T-shirt and a matching handkerchief wrapped around his head, he is off to join hundreds of farmers, labourers and fishermen standing between a generations-old way of life and India's biggest single foreign direct investment.

Local people are protesting against the planned construction of a $12 billion steel mill by South Korea's POSCO in the poor eastern state of Orisssa.

"If the company wants to set up its project, let them first kill us," Bardham shouts over the speeches and slogans blaring out from loudspeakers to rows of protesters behind him. "If our land goes, everything will go. We will not get food, clothes or education."

The POSCO protests are another storm warning in an environment growing increasingly hostile to what many Indians see as a nexus of corrupt politicians and businessmen profiting from kickbacks and forced land acquisition as foreign firms vie for a place in the Indian market.

How the stand-off plays out will be closely watched at home and abroad for signs of how relations are changing between investors, the government, and Indians affected by big projects.

Farmers accuse the Orissa state government of being in cahoots with big business to trick them out of land their families have held for generations. They believe their best shot at a decent life is holding on to their farm incomes, and accuse police of beating up villagers and burning crops to force them to leave.

"We will not sell at any cost or under any pressure," said Kabir Chandra Pradhan, a 46-year-old grower of betel -- a leaf used to wrap a sticky mix known as paan that lightens the heads and reddens the teeth of millions of Indians every day.

POSCO is the latest in a number of high-profile projects that have been held up by protests.

Tata Motors said on Wednesday it was challenging in court a decision by the newly elected government in the state of West Bengal to reclaim land India's top vehicle maker owns but abandoned in 2008 due to violent protests.

Many say India urgently needs more POSCOs -- foreign companies pouring cash into one of the world's fastest-growing economies, revamping rusty infrastructure and providing thousands of new manufacturing jobs for a population of 1.2 billion people.

But the project has endured years of delays due to protests at the site as farmers, backed by activist groups and left-wing political parties, refuse to give up their land.

After weeks of agitation in which women and children like Rakesh formed human rings to block police, the state government was forced to suspend its land acquisition on Tuesday.

Only half of the 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of land needed for the site have been acquired, though it was due to start pumping out 4 million tonnes of steel a year by 2011.

FDI Barometer

The project is a barometer for India's investment climate, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's federal government walks a tightrope between cultivating economic development and sustaining the livelihoods of the world's biggest number of poor, many of whom form his party's core vote.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to providing the billions of dollars worth of new highways, ports and industrial plants India needs to maintain economic growth as it grapples with high inflation, rising interest rates and dampened investor confidence.

FDI fell 28.5 percent to $19.4 billion in 2010/11, the last fiscal year that ended in March, as foreign investors shunned India over policy paralysis from a series of corruption cases, regulatory hurdles and lack of reform.

Rival emerging giant China, by contrast, has seen booming FDI, with inflows up 23.4 percent year-on-year in the first five months of 2011 to $48 billion.

POSCO is only one of numerous high profile projects in the energy sector that have been held up by red tape, protests and fights between local and federal authorities. ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel too have faced delays.

Investors are also concerned by how long the government is taking to rule on Vedanta Resources' plan to buy Cairn Energy's Indian assets, a potential $9.6 billion deal the firms agreed last August but which has been held up by a dispute involving the state-run oil exploration firm.

Added to that are worries over the capacity of India's political class to implement reform, with a series of scandals, topped by allegations of kickbacks in the awarding of telecoms licences that may have cost the state up to $39 billion, sapping confidence in Singh's reformist credentials.

Money Needed

With a quarter of its 42 million people illiterate and 40 percent of infants malnourished, Orissa needs investment.

Its roads are bumpy, and power cuts are common. Though rich in minerals such as bauxite and iron ore, wealth has not trickled down enough to millions of poor and tribal people, fuelling a Maoist insurgency across the state.

"Everybody wants a foreign infusion of money," said Sahadeva Sahoo, the state's former top bureaucrat.

Orissa wants to use part of the land acquired from the landholders for POSCO to build a new port, but the protesters do not understand why it cannot be built elsewhere, or even done without.

Hundreds gathered at the protest site on Wednesday, sitting under a sea of black umbrellas to shield them from the baking sun as they listened to speeches. A man with a white beard, carrying a water container and a portable hose on his bare back, walked around spraying the crowd to cool them down.

Children shouted slogans such as "save our homeland" and "go back, POSCO" during the speeches, and the crowd wore black bands on their wrists, arms or heads to mark the "Black Day" anniversary of the mill agreement signing.

The state government says its compensation package is one of the best in India: thousands of dollars in cash and a job for at least one member of each displaced family. Pro-POSCO activists say the mill will tackle youth unemployment.

The protesters are not convinced. Sisir Mohapatra, secretary of one of the activist groups, says similar promises were made for other projects that never materialised.

"We don't have any faith in the government," he says, adding that the mill should be moved to less fertile land.

Police have played down the protest's scale. "Only a few people with mala fide (bad faith) intentions are protesting," said deputy superintendent G. Pradhani. He said talk of police issuing threats and burning vines was "one thousand percent false".

The state government, which alleges children were forced to lie on the baking hot ground to act as human shields, says the project will continue, and that construction work has started on already acquired land.

"The government is committed to do this peacefully," said Vikas Saran, POSCO's India vice president, who is based in Delhi. "We are committed to this project. No force, nothing is being used. That is what I have heard. So it is all politically motivated, nothing else."

A new federal land acquisition law is due to be introduced in July's parliament session, but the activists have vowed to dig in until POSCO withdraws.

"We will fight the government until our last breath," said Somanath Samal, a protester who says police drove his family from his betel vines and then set them alight. "We will give up our lives but not our livelihood." (Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar, India and Annie Banerji in New Delhi; Editing by Paul de Bendern, Daniel Magnowski and Alex Richardson)

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