Cancellation of Two Steel Projects by POSCO and Arcelor Mittal has Lessons for Other Projects
5th In-principle Extension of SEZ Status to POSCO Odisha Plant in Seven Years is Illegal
New Delhi, July 19 : In quick succession two steel projects worth 18b $ have been cancelled after they failed to acquire land and other clearances. Many in government are saying its bad for investment, and environmental, labour and other guidelines need to be relaxed to attract foreign investment in manufacturing. As people’s movements opposing many of these big infrastructure projects, we feel that these projects are nothing but resource grab and transfer to private corporations for nothing and in violation of constitutional provisions. We need stricter implementation of the existing guidelines to stop such loot of natural resources and stern actions against those responsible.
The POSCO Steel project in Odisha is infamous for several illegalities to date: tree-felling; grabbing forest-dwellers land; incomplete assessment and deliberate concealment of facts, seizing natural resources without requisite MoU and environment clearance; criminally beating, arresting and killing those resisting the project; and flagrantly violating fundamental rights to life and liberty of local citizens. Now the Central and State governments have connived with POSCO by modifying rules to continually extend its in-principle approval as multi-product SEZ and violating the requirement that there will be no forcible acquisition of land for SEZs.
- On January 18, 2013 in the 56th Board of Approval meeting POSCO was given the 5th in-principle approval extension (Annexure 1)! A June 15, 2007 letter issued by the SEZ BoA to all state governments clearly states that no forcible acquisition should be carried out for SEZs. This was backed up by Instruction 29 guidelines on land acquisition for SEZs on August 18, 2009 (Annexure 2) to all state Chief Secretaries reiterating:
The State Governments would not undertake any compulsory acquisition of land for setting up of the SEZs. BoA will not approve any SEZs where the State Governments have carried out or propose to carry out compulsory acquisition of land for such SEZs after 5th April 2007.
- While acquisition under Land Acquisition Act 1894 has been halted by the Odisha High Court for process violations, the illegal forcible acquisition of forest land continues in violation of FRA 2006 and despite intense local opposition. The villagers have taken several resolutions in their gram sabha not to divert their forest land for non-forest purposes in the years 2008, 2010 and 2012. In the gram sabha resolution of October 18, 2012 (Annexures 3 and 4) the Dhinkia panchayat gram sabha noted:
The Gram Sabha endorse [sic] decision taken by the Palli Sabhas to not give consent to the diversion of forest lands under its customary use and boundary for the purpose of the POSCO steel plant project, or for any other purpose, and directs the District Level Committee and the State government to ensure strict compliance with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, the guideline issued by Ministry of Environment & Forests on 30.07.2009 and the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on 12th July 2012 in this regard. Diversion of forest land without compliance to the Forest Rights Act and the above mentioned guidelines is a violation of the Forest Rights Act and a criminal offence.
- The POSCO area in Jagatsinghpur Odisha is the site of intense local resistance. The repression and violence that villagers in the area have been facing since the inception of the project are widely documented in the media, by state bodies and by independent NGOs (see Annexures 5 and 6 for brief overview of repression and links to key documents available at: https://www.forestrightsact.com/corporate-projects/item/12-the-posco-project).
- The 1620.496 hectare POSCO-India Pvt. Ltd. multi-product SEZ was given its first in-principle approval on September 28, 2006 in the 5th SEZ Board of Approval (BoA) meeting. On December 15, 2009 in the 37th SEZ BoA meeting 11 SEZs whose 2nd in-principle approval term had lapsed, including POSCO SEZ, were given special de novo approvals to allow the developers to complete their land acquisition (Annexure 7)! At the time, the rules of extension of in-principle approvals did not allow for more than 2 extensions and the Board noted:
…keeping in view the various difficulties expressed by the developers and also keeping in view that under the existing SEZ Rules, there is no provision for grant of third extension in respect of in-principle approvals, though there is a proposal for amending the rules which may take some time. After deliberations, the BoA decided to grant de novo approval… and will process them at par with the first and the second in-principle approval extension cases…
- It is clear the in-principle approval extension rules were modified to aid SEZ developers like POSCO! When the BoA is itself acknowledging difficulties in land acquisition, which are primarily because locals have rejected the project, why is it continuously extending the approval for POSCO SEZ?
- The Center is hiding behind false assurances by the state government of Odisha that no compulsory acquisition of land is being undertaken for POSCO SEZ! There are daily media reports and documentation of the struggles of the locals and the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti against the forcible and coercive land acquisition being undertaken by the state government. The MoEF/ MOTA committee constituted by the MoEF made explicit note of the copies of all palli sabha resolutions against the POSCO project in Gobindpur and Dhinkia undertaken by the panchayats. It was on the basis of this report that the MoEF withdrew clearance to POSCO but then renewed it on the state government’s false assurances!
- In the October 2010 report of the MoEF committee investigating the implementation of FRA 2006 a majority of three committee members expressly took note of local opposition to the POSCO project and the violations and lapses in due process including suppression of facts; violations of the Forest Rights Act 2006; inadequate R&R provisions; violations in obtaining the environmental clearance; and compliance of CRZ regulations. The members recommended revoking the MoEF environmental clearance (see summary report, Annexure 8).
- The National Green Tribunal has recently taken note of the series of lapses and violations in obtaining environmental clearance for the POSCO project and suspended the clearance of 2011. Based on the NGT judgment of 31.3.2012 the K Roy Paul committee was constituted and its recommendations are being considered again by the MoEF. Consequently, and given the 2007 clearances for the project have lapsed, the NGT has once again halted illegal land acquisition and tree-felling in the area (see latest order, Annexure 9).
- The Centre and the State are colluding to violate laws and guidelines and the decision-making powers of the Panchayats to favour POSCO. With clear and documented evidence of opposition, how can the SEZ BOA claim that the land acquisition for POSCO is not forced? What is the reason for giving POSCO 5th in-principle approval extension in seven years?
- There is no justification for giving POSCO land and tax concessions against the people’s will. Not only are the state and central governments violating laws, they are creating additional losses to the exchequer at huge cost to the local people!
- The recent arrests of PPSS activists by the state are clear indication of the coercion and violence that the state is resorting to have its way with the rightful lands and resources of the local people. We demand:
- Revoke the in-principle approval to POSCO SEZ and denotify it immediately!
- Release all local villagers arrested for peacefully opposing POSCO SEZ immediately!
- Withdraw all police force from the area and refrain from using force and intimidating people to push forceful land acquisition!
- Conduct independent fact-finding and document the violence, repression and coercion that the villagers in the POSCO area have been facing since the inception of the project!
- Provide clear compensation for the damages and losses of life and livelihood to the locals!
- No further approvals should be granted to the project on environment and forest related grounds due to the gross undermining of regulatory processes!
- Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, MKSS
- Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan - National Alliance of People’s Movements
- Prafulla Samantara, NAPM
- Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate
- EAS Sarma, Former Union Power Secretary
- Sandeep Pandey, Lok Rajniti Manch
- Vidya Dinker, Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development
- Ulka Mahajan, Sarvahara Jan Andolan
- Mukta Srivastava, Anna Adhikar Abhiyan – NAPM
- Preeti Sampat
- Subhash Gatade, New Socialist Initiative
- Gabriele Dietrich, NAPM
- Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM
- Vimal bhai, NAPMKanchi Kohli
- Mahtab Alam, PUCL
- Usha Seethalakshmi
- Simpreet Singh
- Sanjeev Kumar
- Mamata Dash
- Asit Das, POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
- Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM
- Seela Mahapatra, NAPM
- Madhumita Dutta, Researcher
- Sandeep Kumar Pattnaik, National Center for Advocacy Studies
- Kanchi Kohli
- Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity
- Partho Ray
- Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development
- Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddhi Vedike
- Krishi Bhoomi Samrakshana Samithi
- Sarvahara Jan Andolan
- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
- National Alliance of People’s Movements