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വായന

09 December, 2009

POSCO's Orissa project: an Open Letter

The following is an Open Letter from the National Centre for Advocacy Studies and Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti to POSCO TJ Park Prize Committee, POSCO TZ Park Foundation, Seoul, Korea.

Dear Sir,

We, people from India and different parts of the world concerned with the protection of human and environmental rights, have learned that 2006 onwards POSCO TJ Park Prize has been awarding an individual or organization its Community Development & Philanthropy Prize. This gives us reason to believe that as an organization, POSCO is concerned about community development and has respect for human rights and social justice initiatives.

We therefore find it ironic that POSCO is simultaneously perpetrating severe human rights violations and threatening people's livelihoods, specifically in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, and the livelihoods of more than 20,000 people are at risk due to POSCO’s US$ 12 billion plan to build a 12 million tonne per annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant, captive port and mines. This plant will require 4,004 acres of land, in addition to land for a railway, road expansion and mine development. The land earmarked for this purpose has been used for generations by Dalits, agriculturalists, workers and small businesses. These people will lose their homes and livelihoods as result of this project.

Against the establishment of the POSCO power plant and port, over 800 individuals from the affected areas joined together to march 150 km in protest from November 29 to December 5, 2009. The proposed steel plant is predicted to have devastating impacts on the environment and ecology in the area.

POSCO has applied for prospecting licences and direct leases for mining. The licence would allow the company to mine on 2,500 hectares in iron ore rich Khandadhar in Sundergarh district. These areas are currently covered with dense forest, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and flora. The indigenous communities living there are totally dependent on these forests for fuel, fodder, fruits and medicinal plants. The water springs that exist there provide water for drinking as well as irrigation. Furthermore, the mining will affect the Khandadhar waterfall, a famed tourist destination in the state.

Various reports have indicated that there is a grave medical emergency developing in the Erasama and Kujanga blocks of Jagatsinghpur district, the sites of the proposed steel plant. A number of women in the area are in late stages of pregnancy but are unable to access the medical care they require because of the fear of harassment and arrest by the local police. There is also severe malnutrition among children living in these districts. In part, this is a result of poor economic turnover due to the turmoil that has been present in the area over the past few years as a result of the project. The general population of the affected villages also needs help in combating malaria. These people cannot go out and receive treatment because of the threat of arrests.

In keeping with the points outlined above, we strongly urge that you, as independent Committee members, immediately look into the matter with an open mind and urge POSCO Company to withdraw from the proposed project in order to respect and protect the rights and livelihood of the indigenous people and save the rich environment and bio diversity in the state of Orissa, India.

As fellow people interested in community welfare and philanthropy, we would also request that you seriously reconsider your position as committee members for the TJ Park Prize.

We are attaching herewith the following annexure, showing the impact of proposed captive plant, port and mining by POSCO Company on the life and livelihoods of indigenous people and the rich environment and ecology of the area.

With regards,
Yours sincerely,

Pramodini Pradhan
Convenor (PUCL- Bhubaneswar)

Official statistics indicate that only 438 acres of the 4000 acres required for the POSCO site is private land. The rest of the land required officially belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in official documentation. Government records do not show that the majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations.

The people of Jagatsinghpur are dependent upon the beetle, paddy and fish for their livelihoods. Around 30,000 families earn about INR one lakh (about USD 2000) yearly from these cultivations. There are approximately 5000 vines of beetle in the three panchayat areas, which are tended by about 10,000 cultivators. Many landless families depend on basket making, work as daily labourers on the betel vine farms or are engaged in pisiculture, mostly prawns.

In response to the claim of this land by POSCO, the local people have submitted applications for claims on titles repeatedly however regularization and settlement of the betel vine lands has not yet been initiated by the government. The Settlement record was prepared last in 1984.

POSCO began its operations in India by registering POSCO-India. The first attempt by the district administration to acquire land for the proposed plant and port was thwarted by strong local opposition, which began in early 2006 under the banner of 'POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti' (PPSS) (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement), based in Dhinkia village.

Scarcity of water for Irrigation


The volume of water required for the project is predicted to have a detrimental impact on water irrigation for the local population. According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Government of Orissa is to permit draw and use of water (near about 12 thousand to 15 thousand crore liters) from the Mahanadi barrage at Jobra and Naraj in Cuttack for construction and operation of the “Overall Project”.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised over the past two years by citizens of the area and technical experts that this would severely impact the drinking and agricultural water supply of Cuttack and neighboring four districts. These concerns have not been addressed by the government yet.

Destruction of the Environment and threat to Gahirmala Marine Sanctuary


The proposed port to be built by POSCO at Jatadhari (Estuarine region of Ersamma) has also evoked environment concerns of damage to the coastline Conservationists. They have pointed out that any damage to the coastline by the construction of the port could pose a threat to the nesting habitat of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Especially at risk are the turtle-nesting beaches in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, where nearly 400,000 Olive Ridleys come to nest every year.

Environmental research has shown that the nesting turtles are already threatened by illegal mechanized fishing, rapid loss of nesting beaches due to casuarinas plantations and industrial pollution. The proposed POSCO port poses a fresh threat. The port if built would also directly displace the livelihoods of several fishing communities as the Jatadhari estuary serves as a spawning and breeding ground for several species of fish. The recent analysis report prepared by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of POSCO Captive port at Jatadhar Mohan Creek Paradeep Port points out that the “EIA report has completely missed out on addressing the issues of cumulative impact on people and habitat residing in the close vicinity as well as the land where the project is proposed”[4].

Implication of proposed mining in Khandadhar hills

The mining sites which have been proposed in the district of Keonjhar are also predicted to have detrimental impacts. Communities within these areas are already suffering under the social and environmental impacts of large-scale mining activity. Health problems are rampant in the region, particularly amongst the mine workers and their children. The poor health status of the mine workers and the increasing incidence of waterborne and respiratory diseases have been highlighted in a recent 'State of the Environment’ report.

The Khandadhar hills where POSCO is being allotted the mines, spread over 6000 hectares, are covered with forests, inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife and as well as flora. The adivasi (Indigenous people) communities, which form 74% of the population in the surrounding area will be severely impacted by the proposed mining.

Ongoing Human Rights Violations

Over the past four years, there have been a number of allegations of government repression from the local community. Local anti-POSCO activists have stated that the Government has filed several false cases against them, and that POSCO has been working to suppress the movement. In October 2008, the leader of anti POSCO movement, Mr.Abhaya Sahoo was arrested and 32 “false cases” were charged against him. To date, the movement has been democratic and non-violent, however, a recently released video reflects that Mr. Abhaya is being kept against his will by the government. You can view this video online at the following link www.youtube.com/watch?v=px3d52vTEuM

For more information, you can visit the following links:
http://stoposco.wordpress.com/
http://www.freewebs.com/epgorissa/posco.htm
http://www.ncasindia.org/public/GGG/series08.pdf

For further information, please contact
Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson, Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement)
Email: prashantpaikray@gmail.com

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