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Opinion

Orissa - POSCO : Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Sir,

I am writing in the context of the brutal attack of the Orissa police on the peaceful protesters of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti in Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa. More than 100 people, including many women, have been injured; those seriously injured are receiving no medical care; the police have burned houses and shops as well as the protesters' tents; and the police are blocking the entry or exit of any person from the area. This kind of atrocity can never be justified. But what makes it doubly criminal is that the Orissa government claims to be doing so as they have rights over the land.

I am afraid that this is a blatant falsehood. There are some aspects of the proposed POSCO project which I wish to bring to your attention:

  • 3000 of the 4000 acres to be given for POSCO's steel plant are classified as forest land.
  • Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, many of the people of the area are eligible for rights over this land, especially the lands they are cultivating, as they have been living in the area for more than 75 years.
  • The Orissa government has done nothing to implement this law. The Dhinkia gram sabha passed a resolution on March 23, 2008 , initiating the process as required under section 6 of the Act and also exercising their power under section 5 of the Act to protect the surrounding forest lands. Till date the government has taken no action and has acted as if the law does not exist.
  • On December 29, 2009 , in direct violation of their own circular of August 3rd, 2009 and of the Forest Rights Act, the Environment Ministry issued final clearance for POSCO to utilise the land.
  • After opposition from political leaders, including myself, on January 8 th the Environment Ministry was forced to "clarify" that the clearance is subject to the Forest Rights Act and to the August 2009 circular of the Ministry. Hence, said the letter, the "project cannot go ahead" until the rights of the people are recognised and their consent obtained through gram sabha resolutions.
  • In the first week of February 2010, all three gram sabhas of the area passed resolutions rejecting the project. As such under the law the forest clearance is now invalid and must be withdrawn; the project cannot proceed in that area. Yet the Environment Ministry has done nothing about this.
  • Despite this, the Orissa government has been publicly claiming that the clearance has been granted, and it is on that basis that it has dispatched police to attack the peaceful protesters of the area.

This is quite apart from the fact that the project itself is nothing less than an attempt to strip this country's mineral resources for a foreign multinational, with no benefit to either the people of the area or the economy of this country.

On November 4, 2009 , you described the Forest Rights Act as a "landmark legislation." Is this the manner that the government is going to treat this "landmark legislation"? I urge upon you to immediately intervene, instruct the Environment Ministry to withdraw the illegal clearance, review the POSCO project in light of the fact that it is a notorious blacklisted multinational, and halt the police atrocities against the struggling people of the area.

Sincerely,

(D. RAJA)
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT (RAJYA SABHA)
National Secretary, Communist Party of India