A Note of POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsa Samiti ( PPSS), Jagatsinghpur, Odisha
A Brief Background:
On June 22 2005, Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), a large South Korean corporation, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Orissa in eastern India. This MOU outlined POSCO’s proposal to invest in the mining industry and build a steel plant, captive power station and port in Erasama block of Jagatsinghpur district.
For the last five years, people living in the villages of the proposed site under the banner of POSCO Pratirodh Sanghrsa Samiti (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement) have been relentlessly protesting against the land acquisition process. More than 4000 families totaling a population of 30,000 will be affected by the project. These include all those persons directly dependant on the betel vine cultivation, pisiculture, cashew nut cultivation, and fishing in the Jatadhari Muhana (estuary) where the port has been proposed. Another 20,000 people from Erasama, Tirtol, and Kujang block will be affected if the port comes up at Jatadhari. Loss of self-sustained and thriving local economy, of livelihood and of an entire way of life is the major concern on which the local resistance to the project is based.
POSCO has applied for prospecting licenses and direct leases for mining. The license would allow the company to mine on 2,500 hectares in iron ore rich Khandadhar in Sundergarh district. These areas are currently covered with dense forest, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and flora. The Indigenous communities living there are totally dependent on these forests for fuel, fodder, fruits and medicinal plants. The water springs that exist there provide water for drinking as well as irrigation. The proposed steel plant is predicted to have devastating impacts on the environment and ecology in the area. Furthermore, the mining will affect the Khandadhar waterfall – a famed tourist destination in the state.
The opposition to the plant and port site has rapidly built up. While there were mixed reactions initially, people of Dhinkia, Gadakujang and Nuagoan panchayats soon realized that they faced the threat of losing their land without gaining anything in return. The news of the MoU to be signed was already out in early April 2005. The MoU was signed in June and on July 11 of 2005, the three Panchayats Nuagoan, Gadakujang and Dhinkia came together and formed POSCO Pratirodah Sangram Samiti (PPSS) to oppose the project. Villagers across different party lines and ideology have converged to form the PPSS.
This lopsided, iniquitous, and environmentally destructive process of development has propelled the people to stand up against the state. The traditional modes of livelihood are seriously threatened. There are no appropriate alternatives in sight. It is at this juncture that PPSS gave expression to the common demand and will of the villagers.
Organizing the Struggle:
The Erasama constituency was a stronghold of the CPI in the post-independence period. Loknath Chaudhary, who was a member of parliament from this area in the 1970s and 1980s built local cadre in some pockets such as Dhinkia panchayat. He earned a great deal of goodwill in the area. He had a reputation for his integrity. The CPI thus has a strong base in the area.
Mr. Abhay Sahu, state secretary of the CPI was sent to the area in July 2005 to lead the anti-POSCO movement and mobilise the party cadres. According to Mr. Abhya Sahu, the CPI does not own the anti-POSCO movement, it merely provides the leadership. He sees it as a people’s struggle. The PPSS has 21 members in its executive committee who are chosen by the people.
Reactions to the Struggle:
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) have peacefully protested for the last five years. They have struggled to protect their life and livelihood despite repression by the state machinery. PPSS activists are also facing intimidation and assault from hired goons of POSCO and members of the United Action Committee (UAC) a pro-POSCO outfit active in the area. On April 20, 2008, people under the banner of PPSS offered Shramadan (Voluntary labour ) by digging at the confluence of the river Jatadhari with the Bay of Bengal. This was done to avoid the continuous water logging problem in their agricultural lands.On 21st April, 2010, when the villagers were returning after finishing the dredging work; they were attacked by a few pro-POSCO villagers in Govindpur village. Dula Mandal of PPSS was killed in the bomb attack. Another PPSS member, Dhruba Sahani was critically injured. The leader of PPSS did not allow people to retaliate. Instead, the attackers were held hostage for two days and then handed over to police unhurt.
The struggle of the PPSS has received legitimacy from the general public from across the state, from left parties in the state and social and political movements from the state and across the country. It has also received the support of various human and environmental rights groups across globe including South Korea.
The key strategies of protest used so far include:
* Sending memorandum to the authorities
* Picketing at POSCO’s local office
* Holding rallies and demonstrations
* Gheraoing the local MLA
* Blockading the area to prevent the entry of all government and POSCO officials
The most effective strategy to stall progress of the project has been the setting up of check-posts in the area by the local communities. These check-posts have restricted the movement of local officials and POSCO staff at the project site.
Now the struggle has reached the decisive stage since both the state and PPSS are determined to have their way.
Demands of PPSS:
1. The government puts a stop to such grave human rights violations in the proposed project area.
2. The government immediately withdraws its police force from the area.
3. The government ensures that POSCO immediately withdraws from the proposed project for the greater benefit of the state of Orissa, India.
4. The government comes up with planned and sustainable initiatives for social and environmental development in the area, such as the promotion of paddy cultivation, fishery related activities. These will help to ensure the future livelihoods of communities living there.
For more information about the people’s concerns about the project, please read the detailed note attached below.
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS)
Concerns with the project:
Destruction of Livelihoods
*** Forceful Acquisition of land
Women at the 1st April, 2008 Rally from Dhinkia to Balithutha
Official statistics indicate that only 438 acres of the 4000 acres required for the POSCO site is private land. The rest of the land required officially belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in official documentation. Government records do not show that the majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations .
The people of Jagatsinghpur are dependent upon the beetle, paddy and fish for their livelihoods. Around 30,000 families earn about Rs one lakh (approx $ 2000) yearly from these cultivations. There are approximately 5000 vines of beetle in the three panchayat areas, which are tended by about 10,000 cultivators. Many landless families depend on basket making, work as daily labourers on the betel vine farms or are engaged in pisiculture, mostly prawns.
In response to the claim of this land by POSCO, the local people have submitted applications for claims on titles repeatedly however regularization and settlement of the betel vine lands has not yet been initiated by the government. The Settlement record was prepared last in 1984.
POSCO began its operations in India by registering POSCO-India. The first attempt by the district administration to acquire land for the proposed plant and port was thwarted by strong local opposition, which began in early 2006 under the banner of 'POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti' (PPSS) (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement), based in Dhinkia village.
*** Scarcity of water for Irrigation
The volume of water required for the project is predicted to have a detrimental impact on water irrigation for the local population. According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Government of Orissa is to permit draw and use of water (near about 12 thousand to 15 thousand crore liters) from the Mahanadi barrage at Jobra and Naraj in Cuttack for construction and operation of the “Overall Project”.
Concerns have been repeatedly raised over the past two years by citizens of the area and technical experts that this would severely impact the drinking and agricultural water supply of Cuttack and neighboring four districts. These concerns have not been addressed by the government yet.
Destruction of the Environment
Threat to Gahirmala Marine Sanctuary
The proposed port to be built by POSCO at Jatadhari (Estuarine region of Ersamma) has also evoked environment concerns of damage to the coastline Conservationists. They have pointed out that any damage to the coastline by the construction of the port could pose a threat to the nesting habitat of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Especially at risk are the turtle-nesting beaches in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, where nearly 400,000 Olive Ridleys come to nest every year.
Jatadhari : the proposed port side
Environmental research has shown that the nesting turtles are already threatened by illegal mechanized fishing, rapid loss of nesting beaches due to casuarinas plantations and industrial pollution. The proposed POSCO port poses a fresh threat. The port if built would also directly displace the livelihoods of several fishing communities as the Jatadhari estuary serves as a spawning and breeding ground for several species of fish. The recent analysis report prepared by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of POSCO Captive port at Jatadhar Mohan Creek Paradeep Port points out that the “EIA report has completely missed out on addressing the issues of cumulative impact on people and habitat residing in the close vicinity as well as the land where the project is proposed”.
Implication of proposed mining in Khandadhar hills
Khandadhar waterfall at the mining site
The mining sites which have been proposed in the district of Keonjhar are also predicted to have detrimental impacts. Communities within these areas are already suffering under the social and environmental impacts of large-scale mining activity. Health problems are rampant in the region, particularly amongst the mine workers and their children. The poor health status of the mine workers and the increasing incidence of waterborne and respiratory diseases have been highlighted in a recent ‘State of the Environment’ report.
The Khandadhar hills where POSCO is being allotted the mines, spread over 6000 hectares, are covered with forests, inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife and as well as flora. The adivasi (Indigenous people) communities, which form 74% of the population in the surrounding area will be severely impacted by the proposed mining.
Ongoing Human Rights Violations
Police at the 1st April, 2008 rally
Over the past four years, there have been a number of allegations of government repression from the local community. Local anti-POSCO activists have stated that the Government has filed several false cases against them, and that POSCO has been working to suppress the movement. In October 2008, the leader of anti POSCO movement, Mr.Abhaya Sahoo was arrested and 32 “false cases” were charged against him. To date, the movement has been democratic and non-violent, however, a recently released video reflects that Mr. Abhaya is being kept against his will by the government. You can view this video online at the following link www.youtube.com/watch?v=px3d52vTEuM
For more information, you can visit the following links
**** Update of the Struggle ****
On Aug 9, 2010 The Ministry of Environment & Forests constituted a four member Committee to investigate and ascertain status of implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and Rehabilitation and Resettlement provisions in and around.
On September 21, 2010, the four member team headed by Meena Gupta visited the area to assess its compliance with the environmental protection act, coastal regulation zone act and other clearances granted to it. Besides, they also reviewed its compliance with statutory provisions, approvals, clearances and permissions under various statutes, rules and notifications.
On October 18th, 2010 the four-member committee comprising Meena Gupta, Urmila Pingle, Devendra Pandey and V Suresh submitted two different reports on POSCO's proposal to set up an integrated steel plant and a captive port in Orissa. While Pingle, Pandey and Suresh submitted a joint report, Gupta gave a separate one.
Both the reports, however, agreed that provisions under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) need to be re-looked at by the Orissa government in a transparent and democratic way and ensure setting of individual and community rights as per the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and Rules made there in.
The matter will now be discussed by the Expert Appraisal committee on coastal regulation zone (CRZ) of the environment ministry on November 6 and 7.
The environmental committee felt that the final forest clearance of the ministry of environment and forests has overlooked serious violations of their own directions and the procedures prescribed by law.
The report submitted by the three members further felt that the ministry should not have granted environment clearances on the basis of rapid environmental impact assessment (EIA) for port which was based on one season data.
Contending that there have been many serious lapses and illegalities in the EIA process, the report said that the Environmental Clearance given by the MoEF for minor port and for the steel plant should be immediately revoked.
It felt that POSCO-India Pvt Ltd has not been able to address all the issues relating to CRZ notification. There are a number of serious lapses and violations, including suppression of facts. The environment clearance given should therefore be revoked forthwith.
However, Gupta differed on this, saying that the existing environment and CRZ clearances should continue and POSCO should be asked to carry out a comprehensive and integrated environment impact assessment which has not been done so far.
On November 2, 2010 the Forest Advisory Committee, a panel under the Union ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recommended scrapping of forest clearance given to the project.
On November 10, 2010, The Ministry of Environment and Forest’ decision on POSCO’s forest land clearance has been deferred by 10 days. The expert appraisal committee on POSCO would meet again to review Environmental Impact Assessment report.