JOINT STATEMENT ON POLICE ATROCITIES AND STATE REPRESSION ON ANTI-POSCO STRUGGLE

MARCH 6, 2012

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We strongly condemn the attack on and illegal abduction by the Odisha police of Umakanta Biswal, a famer belonging to Dhinkia village of Odisha, and an active member of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), that has been engaged over the last six years in resisting the forcible acquisition of their land by the Odisha government for handing over to the South Korean multinational corporation POSCO. This incident, which occurred on 2nd March 2012, is the latest in the series of atrocities inflicted by the Odisha government and by hired goons associated with the government and the POSCO company, on the people of these villages. Umakanta Biswal, who was engaged in agricultural activity in his paddy field at the time of his abduction, was pursued by a group of armed plainclothes policemen on a motorbike, and shot at when he tried to escape. He has reportedly been kept in Paradip prison, and has not been produced in front of a magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest, as is required under law. We have cause to fear that he is being tortured in police custody, and are gravely concerned about his safety. This highly irregular, and illegal, form of detention of a citizen, amounting to a kidnapping by the police, is emblematic of the situation in which the villagers of the POSCO-affected area are living for the last six years, just because they have tried to protect their lives and livelihoods from being devastated by corporate greed. Numerous villagers have multiple false cases lodged against them by the police, and people are in danger of being abducted and detained by the police while being engaged in day to day activities such as farming. There have also been incidents where a villager taking his sick child to hospital has been arrested by the police. This continuing victimization and violation of basic human rights of a whole community of people is intolerable, and goes against all tenets of constitutionality and humanity. We condemn this brutal and illegal action by the Odisha government and demand that Umakanta Biswal be immediately produced in court and released. We request the National Human Rights Commission to take cognizance of this illegal detention and violation of rights of a citizen, which is symptomatic of the violation of rights of the entire community of villagers in the area of the proposed POSCO project.

Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Prafulla Samantara NAPM and Lok Shakti Abhiyan
Prof. Ajit Jha Samajwadi Jan Parishad
Partho Sarathi Roy SANHATI Collective
Kiran Shaheen Media Action Group, Delhi
Aarti Chokshi Secretary PUCL, Karnataka
Students for Resistance Delhi University and JNU
Amit Chakrabarty Research Scholar, JNU
Mamta Das NFFPFW and POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Subrat Kumar Sahoo POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Kamayani Bali Mahabal Lowyer Activist, Mumbai
Asit Das POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Nayan Jyoti Krantikari Naujawan Sabha
Shankar Gopal Krishnan Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Mayur Chetia Research Scholar JNU
Arya Thomas Krantikari Naujawan Sabha
P.K. Sunderam Research Scholar JNU
Bhanumati Gochhait POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Ranjeet Thakur Journalist, Uttarakhand
Rajni Kant Mudgal Socialist Front
Rita Kumari Pravasi Nagarik Manch
Pushpa Achanta Women against Sexual Violence State Repression Karnataka

Sign the petition against POSCO in Orissa

Sign the petition here (the text of the petition is below).

To: Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India
New Delhi

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.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

NAPM memo on POSCO in Odisha

NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTS

National Office : A Wing First Floor, Haji Habib Building, Naigaon Cross Road                                                                                  Dadar (E), Mumbai – 400 014. Phone – 9969363065;

Delhi Office : 6/6 jangpura B, New Delhi – 110 014 . Phone : 9818905316

E-mail: napmindia@napm-india.org | Web : www.napm-india.org

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June 13, 2010

 

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister, Union of India

 

Shri Naveen Patnaik

Chief Minister, State of Odisha

 

We have written to you earlier on the issue of proposed POSCO plant in the State of Odisha. We are extremely concerned at using police force against its own people in the villages of Gobindpur and Dhinkia, Jagatsinghpur to force them to vacate their homes and lands setting up this plant in the name of “public interest”. How can this be the ‘public interest’ if people of the region has been opposed to this project for more than five years, since the day MoU was signed ? Some of us have visited the area in these years and seen the resistance and also the thriving natural resources and communities living with dignity.

 

There has already been violence in this area by the police against people including women and children protesting peacefully, and on June 3, 2011, 17 people were beaten up and arrested for resisting the destruction of their betel vines, the source of their livelihood. As on June 12, 2011, the whole area is tense with about more than 25 platoons of fully armed police menacingly present, making loudspeaker announcements every 15 minutes, ordering the people to vacate or in default face police action. The people are especially afraid that the police may attack at night, but they are determined to peacefully resist the land acquisition. Women and children have been forced to lie in this chilling heat facing the boots of your armoured police. Is this the great democracy we are celebrating ?

 

It need not be made more explicit that use or threat of police force by the Odisha State Government or the Union Government based on illegal environmental clearance from the Union Government is completely unconstitutional. By not taking all possible steps to prevent police action against peacefully demonstrating citizens, you are violating the Constitution of India which you have sworn to uphold when you took office. Similar action took place in Kalinganagar in 2006, when 14 people who were peacefully resisting destrcution of their homes were shot dead by Odisha police. The police violence against the resistance of people in other places like Kashipur (Odisha), and Nandigram and Singur (West Bengal), to name just three, to government acquisition of land in the “public interest” has severely eroded the faith of people all over the country in the democratic professions of both state and union governments. In fact, people’s perception is that governments, regardless of ideology, are complicit with the multi-national corporations that demand land and other primary resources at the cost of poor rural and tribal people.

 

The acquisition of forest land is in violation of the Forest Rights Act, a matter on which the two committees of MoEF have already clarified and asked settlement of rights of people living there. You possibly have very good reason to neglect such people-oriented, constitutionally and legally sound advice but whatever the reason, it is anti-people, undemocratic and in violation of the sacred oath of office that you have taken. In fact the reason is eminently suspect.

 

It is unutterably sad that Independent India, that too under the rule of a party that won independence from the British, is using colonial methods of grabbing land with the use of police force from poor but self-supporting rural people to benefit multi-national business corporations in spite of their peaceful resistance, and when their pending cases in the High Court are due to be heard shortly. It is amazing how you, in your positions of power, are completely divorced from the reality of the gross injustices and violation of constitutional and human rights being perpetrated by the organs of the State against the very people who have elevated you to those positions. We fail to understand that why is Odisha government in such a hurry when the MoU with POSCO is not even there, it lapsed and your government needs more time to renew it. What is the hurry ? Whose interests are you trying to promote ?

 

Dear PM, you must uphold the promises made by your government and party that there won’t be any forcible acquisitions against the wishes of people. This is the test case for your intervention.

 

Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is never too late to take a right decision and pass legally and constitutionally correct orders. In view of the foregoing, we take this opportunity to urgently urge you to immediately withdraw the police forces that threaten the people of Gobindpur and Dhinkia in jagatsingpur District of Odisha, and put halt to any forced land acquisition in the area for the POSCO project.

 

Medha Patkar, Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere (Retd), Prafulla Samantra, Sandeep Pandey, Gautam Bandopadhyay, Gabriele Dietrich, Anand Mazgaonkar, Faisal Khan, Sister Celia, Vimal Bhai, Mukta Srivastava, Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Bhupendera Singh Rawat, Ramakrishna Raju, Madhuresh Kumar

 

Condemn the Assault on anti-POSCO activists

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To:  Chief Minister of Orissa, Prime Minister of India

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing assault on the anti-POSCO protesters in Jagatsinghpur District, Orissa. After arresting and beating people last week, today more than one thousand police surrounded the area and laid siege to those protesting. Women, children and men spent the entire day in intense heat in order to stand vigil against the illegal attack on their lands. Both people and police officials have lost consciousness from the heat; the police snuck in from one direction and destroyed some vines. Dhinkia gram panchayat, where the crisis is occurring, contains around 2/3 of the land sought by the steel plant and the majority of those affected.

This horrific attack comes at a time when two cases by the villagers are pending in the Orissa High Court, and when there is a criminal complaint against the District Collector for lying and fabricating the evidence that was the basis of the clearance to take the land.

It also comes after three official committees found the land grab to be illegal and in violation of the Forest Rights Act, and after it was exposed by international experts that the project has no benefits for the local or national economy (while providing a minimum profit of Rs. 1,95,000 crores to POSCO).

That the Orissa government itself sees no great urgency in this project can be seen from the fact that the MoU with POSCO has not been renewed for over a year, and its renewal was deferred again just three days ago. There is thus not even any agreement on what the project will be when it comes up. Why then this inhuman attack on those seeking to defend their rights? Can it be anything other than an attempt to terrorise the protesters and all others who may dare to oppose the crimes of the state?

Clearly the State government, with the support of the Centre, is not concerned about the law, the people, the environment or development. Yet again we see the use of police terror to loot our people for private profit. No words of condemnation are sufficient for this heinous crime.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned