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31 May, 2010

Fact-finding team calls for withdrawal of POSCO

A fact finding team travelled to Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa to look into the human rights violations in the wake of May 15 police attack on the activists of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) and villagers affected by the proposed POSCO project.

The team headed by retired judge of the Bombay High Court Justice H Suresh included veteran social activist Chitranjan Singh, Professor Kalpana Kannabiran, veteran public health doctor Dr. Punyabrata Gun, senior journalist Bolan Gangopadhyay and human rights activist and journalist Harsh Dobhal.

Upon its arrival on 24 May morning the team held detailed discussions with representatives of political parties, leaders of people’s movements, journalists, academics and other concerned citizens at Bhubaneshwar. On 25 May, the team traveled to Balituth, proposed POSCO site of Dhinkia, Gobindapur, Patana and other villages and interacted with the local residents and victims of May 15 police firing in an attempt to get first hand information. Following are the prima facie observations by the fact-finding team and a detailed report would be complied and published soon.

The police attack on May 15th on peaceful protestors was totally uncalled for and should have no space in a democratic country like India. Police first opened tear gas shells, then rubber bullet firings and finally resorted to a brutal lathicharg when the determined villagers refused to leave the site. Over 100 persons were injured in the police action, five of them critically. Violating norms of criminal procedure, women protestors were manhandled by the male police.

In violation of international norms and standards on the treatment of the injured even during war times, the Orissa administration did not provide any medical help to the injured. The team interacted with a number of injured persons who have been languishing in their villages without any medical help as they fear police arrests if they leave the villages and the administration has not arranged for any medical help for them.

The team also interacted with a number of residents of Balituth who were neither protestors nor against POSCO project but their shops and houses were set on fire by police without any provocation. We witnessed the burnt down structures of about 15 shops and 6 houses. We could see that while no protest is going on at that site, two vanloads of police personnel are still camping there.

A number of villagers testified that the police set on fire the protest site and the shops and houses but ironically, police has filed cases against anti-POSCO movement leader Abhay Sahu and others for arson and looting. Similarly, police has filed false cases against about 800 people who were protesting against the project in a democratic and peaceful manner.

After traveling to these affected villages, the team has found that the most of the land being proposed for acquisition is rare and fertile land, rich in biodiversity and eco diversity. All the affected villagers have depended on this land for their livelihoods for centuries. Displacing them from there is an attack on their lives and livelihoods and will have very serious and irreversible impact on the fragile and unique ecology of the area.

The proposed land acquisition for POSCO is a violation of a number of Constitutional rights. The team has observed that the villagers are determined not to leave their land and wage a protracted struggle against any displacement.

The fact finding team demands immediate withdrawal of all forged cases against villagers and anti-POSCO movement leaders, release of those arrested, withdrawal of police force from the area, put an end on terrorizing the local populace, allow free movement to and from these villages and initiate immediate withdrawal of the proposed POSCO project from this site. The stiff resistance to POSCO and popular support to this people’s struggle from outside is reflective of the fact that this is a crucial issue of national importance and national interest.

Members of fact-finding team:

- Justice H Suresh
- Chitranjan Singh
- Dr. Punyabrata Gun
- Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran
- Bolan Gangopadhyay
- Harsh Dobhal

Above is a press release issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong.