Peddling POSCO

A policeman on guard at Noriya Sahi where the state of Orissa has begun land acquisition for the POSCO project

‘Yeh bhi jail gaya tha.’ (He also went to jail). – That’s how I was introduced to every other person in Govindpur and Dhinkia villages of Jagatsinghpur district, handed over to the Pohang Steel Company by the state of Orissa.

It is the 20th of May, 2011 in Dhinkia, there is an uneasy calm. The Orissa government pledged to begin land acquisition on the 18th of May after Jairam Ramesh’s infamous May 2nd order giving clearance for the POSCO project.

So far the government hasn’t claimed any private land, and are only taking land from project supporters who are ‘willingly’ handing it over. They’re far away from Dhinkia and Govindpur, where they are aware, the opposition would be fierce. And both the state of Orissa and the Ministry of Forests and Environment would know about the opposition, even if they don’t follow their own laws that is meant to respect it.

As per the Forest Rights Act, the Palli Sabhas of Dhinkia and Govindpur had rejected POSCO, and the State of Orissa had called the Palli/Gram Sabhas dated 21.2.2011 and 23.2.2011, as ‘fraudulent’.

He said, he said, but the learned Minister of Environment believes the state of Orissa, that says both Palli Sabha resolutions were invalid, that there are no tribals in the project affected area, and no ‘other persons has established his/her claim regarding residing in the forest area for 75 years prior to 13.12.2005 or having credible dependence on the forest land for bonafide livelihood needs for 75 years.’

Mr.Jairam will not institute an independent enquiry into the claims and counter-claims, because ‘faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism.’

To Mr. Ramesh, only 69 people have signed the Palli Sabha resolution of the 21st of February, and only 64 have signed the Palli Sabha resolution of the 23rd of February.

Some papers have allegedly gone missing. Probably those showing that there were 1632 people from Dhinkia who signed, or 1365 people from Govindpur who signed.

The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti replied to Mr. Ramesh stating ‘hard copies of the full resolution – with more than 70% quorum in both Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages – were sent by registered post A/D to all Odisha government authorities and to the Ministry.’

‘We believe that the Odisha government has deliberately used the scanned electronic copies sent to you, whose covering letter explicitly stated that only the first page of signatures was being included. The hard copies are already with you, and the veracity of their statements can easily be checked.’

But no, the Forest Rights Act 2006, a law meant to give the forests back to forest-dwelling communities, to allow them access to livelihood, isn’t a priority of the Environment and Forests Ministry that probably finds hard copies a waste of trees, and would rather just believe in the scanned copy, which is also proof of the ‘fraudulent’ manner that the Sarpanch of Dhinkia, Sisir Mahapatra conducted the Palli Sabha. Jairam is asking for ‘stringent action’ against him for violating the Orissa Grama Sabha Act of 1964. (Note to all resisting movements: please scan and email all pages of the Gram Sabha resolutions kicking out the Tatas, the Poscos and the Birlas, irrespective of the thousands of signatures by the adivasis and vanvasis, and the amount of time it would take. If you only scan the first page and email it to the MOEF, you’d be asking for ‘stringent action.’)

‘I believe as a Minister my responsibility is not just to do the right thing but to do the thing right.’ Wrote Jairam Ramesh, in his MOEF order. Apparently, checking one’s mail isn’t a ‘thing’ that can be done right for a minister.

The Acquisition

A woman breaks down as land acquisition officers break down her betel cultivation vines. (photo credit: special arrangement)

Six fat bureaucrats sat in a circle, eating fruits near Noriya Sahi, a project -affected village. One works for the Industrial Corporation of Orissa (IDCO), another is the Block Development Officer; then sits the Additional Divisional Magistrate, two Resettlement & Rehabilitation Officers, and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, who asked me if I knew what a ‘SDM’ was. These were the kind of people who’d be in serious trouble if they were ever surrounded by a gram sabha.  Thus they came with the police.

‘We should manage to acquire all the land in a month.’ Said the R& R Officer.

‘Are people from POSCO a part of the process?’ I asked.

‘Yes, they are there.’ Replied the IDCO man.

‘What do you do?’  I asked a young man accompanying the demolition team.

‘I work with POSCO.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘R.K. Rout.’ He said.

‘You can see it’s all very peaceful, there is no opposition to the land acquisition.’ Said the R & R officer.

Since the 18th, all the acquisition that the government has done, is from Gadkujang Panchayat, where project supporters have willingly allowed their betel vine cultivation plots to be demolished, and others who’ve never had a voice haven’t been able to resist. The pro-POSCO United Action Committee had spoken up against the fact that none of their six-point demands for rehabilitation were met, and they’d oppose land acquisition. But they relented, leaving many people dissatisfied and betrayed.

A local journalist, on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that the consent to demolish isn’t entirely painless – wives cry while husbands take cheques.

Land acquisition is a destroyer of families. And platoons of armed policemen saunter across homes and villages, while children play and villagers who pledge ‘they’d rather die’ than give their land to the government are awaiting the day when the confrontations with them will begin.

Basu Behera is one such man in Noriya Sahi, who lives in a divided community – where there are project supporters and those like him.

‘I cultivate betel vines, kaju, about 50 quintals of rice yearly and I get coconuts, pineapples, mangoes. I get ‘compensation’ every week or every other month. POSCO will compensate us once.’ He says, ‘They can take my land over my dead body.’

I must have heard that a thousand times in three years. Self-sustaining communities may have the economics, the logic, the truth on their side, but industrial development has a mad virulent greed. And guns.

Back amongst the six bureaucrats, about to finish land acquisition for the day, I had brought up the issue of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 and why there is so much opposition to it, taking the recent confrontations in Bhatta Parsaul where 4 people were killed as an example.

‘The people in this area aren’t economically well off,’ Said Sangram Mahapatra of the IDCO, ‘In places like Bhatta Parsaul in U.P., farmers themselves are so rich, they would not even part with their land if you give them 1 crore.’

‘The people here are more economically deprived, that’s why the project is here.’ He continues.

‘We believe in maximum happiness for the maximum number of people.’ He would then speak about John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham and that the POSCO project follows the principles of Utilitarianism, which is the founding principle of modern democracy.

‘What about the opposition?’ I had asked.

‘In a democratic country, there will always be disagreement.’ Continued the R&R officer.

‘That’s why the government is there.’ Said the SDM.

‘A cross section of people always misguide the people.’

‘Kalinganagar was an aberration.’ Continued the IDCO man, who also works on Tata’s project there, ‘See, we are ground level workers, we know a lot of what happens.’

‘I was there a few days ago in Kalinganagar,’ I said, ‘To report on the little girl from the project affected village, who was killed as a Maoist.’

‘About that issue, you should spend the whole day with me and I shall tell you.’ Said the IDCO man.

‘In many places in Orissa, there is no opposition to land acquisition. There was none in Ongole, Dhenkanal, Baleshwar, or Bhubaneshwar.’

He did not speak about Kashipur. He did not speak about Gandhamardhan. He did not speak about Niyamgiri. He works in the ground, but did he even go across to the people?

Five minutes away in Noriya Sahi, Dibya Prakash Behera’s only betel vine plantation was broken down and she received 1.8 lakhs for it. Her entire family depends on betel vine for sustenance. How long is 1.8 lakh going to last her?

To most people, compensation is not just inadequate, but the very idea of compensation is inadequate.

The Prison

Dibya Prakash Behera of Noriya Sahi got 1.8 lakhs for her only betel cultivation plot.

While the state of Orissa and Environment Ministry does its utmost best to not care about the letter of law, it’s interesting to note the number of (false) cases against the people protesting against the project.

The land acquisition process involves the building of prisons of false cases upon everyone who has the voice to say: no. From Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Lohandiguda, to Jagatsinghpur, the police has acted with remarkable ingenuity when it comes to creating virtual prisons to cordon off the struggling people of the country.

‘I have 37 cases against me.’ Said Ranjan Swain of Govindpur village, ‘Apart from section 302, I think they’ve put everything on me.’

‘I was travelling to Paradip by motorcycle, accosted by pro-POSCO goondas, beaten up and sent to hospital. And from the hospital I was arrested.’ Said Prakash Jenna of Govindpur. He was released from jail after eight months.

‘They killed one of our people, and put the murder charge on me.’  Said Sisir Dalai, regarding a bomb-throwing incident on the 20th of June, 2008, when pro-Posco goondas hurled bombs onto the PPSS members, leading to the death of Tapan Mandal, and injuries to at least 9 others. The project supporters were then taken ‘hostage’ by the PPSS members after they gherao-ed the building they escaped into, and were only rescued/arrested by the police from the angry PPSS mob, and then released after three months in jail.

None of the project-affected persons who are openly anti-POSCO are free people. None of them would leave their villages as the risk of re-arrest is understandably high. Abhay Sahoo, the leader of the agitation had spent 10 months in jail. There are a total of 173 cases put on the people protesting the project, according to Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson of the PPSS.

‘The confrontation will come, when they start coming to Govindpur.’ Said Prakash Jenna, ‘And we’re not afraid.’

On the 28th of May, the confrontation did begin when a police jeep had come into Dhinkia. The people quickly responded and drove the police away, who left, promising retribution.

Update: The Confrontation of the 10th of June.

After days of anxious wait, the administration and the policemen tried to enter the stronghold of the PPSS – Govindpur and Dhinkia on the 10th of June. A human barricade of women and children prevented the policemen from entering the area, even after the administration announced Section 144, making it ‘unlawful’ for so many people to be gathered in one area. The police eventually retreated after four hours, according to the spokesperson of the PPSS.

Meanwhile, the Writ Petition against POSCO in the High Court, filed by the villagers, has been repeatedly delayed.

‘We have no faith in the courts.’ Said Ranjan Swain. ‘Today was a small victory,’ he continued, referring to the human-wall of women and children who stopped the police and the administration, who stopped POSCO, who stopped displacement, who stopped dispossession.

Is that what it comes to? Women and children and not courts and laws? Women and children and not the Prime Minister? Women and children and not the Ministry of Environment and Forests?

But the courts, the laws, the Prime Minister and the Environment Ministry will not face bullets tomorrow. Women and Children will.

(3) Comments Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Operation Green Wash | thepelicanbriefcase

  2. The way that the government is handling these relocation issues in India puts me to mind of the way the US goverment treated the Native American Indians. They pushed them all onto infertile plots of land and kept all that was good to themselves. The American Native people are still suffereing almost 200 years later, with high infant mortality and drugs and alcoholism violating most adults. There is little food on the reservation and no jobs. So, aimless and hopeless they turn to drugs and alcohol for succor.
    These articles are revealing and informative and breaks the Western idea that all is well in India and that the government is soundly doing all that it can for all of it’s people.

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