Sign the petition here (the text of the petition is below).
To: Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
Sub: Demand that Central government stop playing double games with people’s lives in POSCO and other large projects; enforce laws relating to people’s rights
Dear Dr. Singh
As concerned citizens of this country, we are appalled at the callous and cynical manner in which the Central government is seeking to exploit people’s struggles for short term political gain. Rather than enforce the law as it stands, the government is playing both sides of the fence. On the one hand it violates the law to favour companies, and on the other it seeks electoral mileage by loud declarations of sympathy when people rise to fight these illegalities.
We refer to the recent statements by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and by other leaders in connection with the POSCO project in Orissa, wherein the Minister, for instance, has asked the State government to follow “democratic practices” and engage in “dialogue and discussion.” But, under the Forest Rights Act, it was the Environment Ministry’s duty to engage in precisely such “democratic practices” before it handed over forest land to POSCO. Meanwhile, long before any process of any kind was complete, you and your office, as well as the Steel Ministry, were making public commitments to POSCO and the South Korean government that the project will be carried out. If the Central government and the ruling party really believe in democracy and dialogue, why have they systematically violated required democratic procedures when handing over land – and forest land in particular – in the first place?
Under the law, forest land cannot be taken until people’s rights over it are fully recorded, and the government must respect forest dwellers’ power to protect and manage their forests. On July 30, 2009, the Ministry itself recognised this when it issued an order explicitly stating that no clearance for diversion of forest land will be given without a gram sabha resolution – i.e. a majority vote at an assembly of the village – that their rights have been respected and that they consent to the takeover. Yet the Ministry broke the law and gave clearance to the POSCO project without a single majority resolution from any village in the area. Indeed, the Minister questioned the majority resolutions actually passed against the project and asked for action against the elected sarpanch, while ignoring the fact that his State government and the Ministry were the ones actually breaking the law.
The same gross illegality is happening in projects across the country. Till date there has not been a single case known of a project being rejected on the basis of a gram sabha resolution – a basic “democratic practice” that the Minister is now advertising. The Minister meanwhile stated in an interview on June 5th that he plans to amend this order because it has become too difficult for the Ministry to comply with the law.
Now, as children, women and men form human barricades to save their lands from POSCO, the very same Minister who violated every tenet of both law and democracy declares that democracy should be respected. Will your government wait, as it did in Sompeta, Srikakulam and elsewhere, for people to die before it remembers its legal duties? Do you seek another Bhatta Parsaul for electoral benefit? Your government is playing a cynical game with people’s lives to benefit corporate profits on the one hand and it’s “aam aadmi” image on the other.
We demand that your government immediately cancel all illegal forest and environment clearances to projects, uphold the Forest Rights Act and the democratic process it requires, and ensure that all land acquisition in non-forest areas too is made legally and practically subject to a democratic decision making process. The government cannot be allowed to continue playing games with the blood of innocent people.