While the Knowledge and Economy Minister of South Korea, Minister Sukwoo, expressed concern over the tardy pace in the implementation of POSCO steel and power project, as many as 250 international rights bodies from across the globe, academicians and individuals fiercely criticised the recent use of force by the Odisha government to acquire land for the plant.
In an open letter issued to the state government on 15th February, the rights bodies and individuals expressed deep concern about the ongoing land acquisition in the Gobindpur village under Dhinkia Panchayat of Jagatsinghpur district. “We strongly condemn the illegal use of force by the government of Odisha against village residents and the protesting community members.” says the press release. The letter claims that such use of force violates the Indian laws and ‘established international human rights norms and standards’. In an early morning exercise the police entered the Gobindpur village on 3rd February and thrashed the protesting women and children to acquire the land. The operation continued for four days.
It may be remembered that the village assemblies of Gobindpur and Dhinkia under the Dhinkia Panchayat have passed resolutions in October 2012, under the Forest Rights Law, not to divert any forest land for the proposed steel plant. The district administration however claimed that they were acquiring the forest land under the stage 1 and stage 2 forest clearance granted by the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) earlier.
Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur opines “the lack of transparency, accountability, and due process in acquiring land for POSCO and moving ahead with the project is alarming.” The release also pointed out to the facts of suspension of environment clearance by the National Green Tribunal in March last year and expiry of the MoU between the company and the state government in June 2011 as reasons why the state ought not to have gone ahead with the land acquisition.
It demanded an independent and impartial investigation into the use of force on innocent people, withdrawal of false charges filed against more than 230 individuals and upholding the rights of the affected communities established under the Forest Rights Act.
The letter is signed by Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, Berkeley, California, Mini Zone People’s Solidarity Group, Boston Mobilization, Boston, Friends of South Asia, Santa Clara, California, and members of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights like Amnesty International, African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights and Studies and others.
Earlier Friends of the Earth International wrote to the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on 7th February appealing to stop use of force. Similarly the South Korean civil and labour organisations also condemned the use of force in a letter written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
According to a senior executive of POSCO-India, 1700 acres of land has been handed over to the company by IDCO. “The work in the area will begin after we get environmental clearance.” said Vishal Dev, the IDCO Chairman-cum-Managing Director, who visited the spot on Wednesday. The District Collector Satya Kumar Mallick claimed that the government has acquired 250 acres of land by dismantling betel vines of 51 families and providing a compensation of 1.2 crore rupees during the recent operation.
In the Indo- Korea joint investment promotion committee meeting held on 15th February in New Delhi, the South Korean Minister Sukwoo Hong is understood to have expressed concern over the tardy progress of the project.
Sources suggest that the state youth Congress leaders will draw attention of Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of INC, who is scheduled to visit Odisha on 18th February, to the issue of use of force against people in the area.
A small number of police are still camping in Mangala Pitha of Gobindpur village, though majority have been withdrawn. But the land acquisition would resume soon, informed the IDCO chief.