Video Volunteers has released a film titled “The People Vs. POSCO” which documents an eight year long people’s movement resisting the forced acquisition of land for projects by South Korean steel giant POSCO — an integrated steel plant and captive port in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. The project stands to be the largest ever foreign direct investment in India.
In the film the people themselves articulate how a currently thriving economy dependent on betel cultivation, fisheries, paddy, rice and cashew farming etc. will be degraded by the project. Residents of the area express dismay at the failure of the Government of Odisha and POSCO to meet their obligations to safeguard and respect the human rights of the people who will be affected by this project.
“We will fight for our lands till we die. It will be easier for the company to take over when we are dead. Anyway the government does not value life here”, says a resident of Dhinkia in the film, one of 22,000 people who stands to lose his land and livelihood should POSCO’s mega-steel plant come through.
As a part of the release of the film, Community Correspondents from Video Volunteers’ network will be organising screenings across Odisha to highlight the human rights violations and bring awareness about them. The first screening will take place in Bhubaneshwar on 10th November 2013.
Video Volunteers along with several other Human Rights organisations has been documenting the people’s movement. The film ‘The People Vs. POSCO’ was shot by Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondents during a fact-finding mission carried out by ESCR-net and IHRC- NYU in November 2012. The mission also resulted in a report titled ‘The Price of Steel’.
The film evidence comes at a critical juncture as the affected areas and protest are recovering from the aftermath of cyclone Phailin. The people of the affected area have shared concerns that the destruction of 170,000 trees by POSCO and the Odisha Government made them extremely vulnerable to effects of the cyclone. In previous years the forest cover had mitigated the worst effects of cyclones. They are determined to carry on with the protest to protect the land and its rich biodiversity from further destruction.
A group of eight United Nations independent human rights experts issued a statement earlier in October asking for the project to be halted until adequate safeguards are ensured and rights of the people are guaranteed. The film reinforces these findings.
“People in the project-affected area have reportedly been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as arbitrary detentions and false charges, as a result of their activities to assemble peacefully and collectively defend their human rights”, said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai.
“People who live in villages around the plant and derive their livelihood from the surrounding forest land have repeatedly expressed their concerns regarding damage to the forest area,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover. “People’s right to live in a healthy environment, an integral part of the right to health, may also be at stake due to the plant, but their protest against it has been disregarded.”
POSCO has issued an open letter in response the above recommendations claiming that no forced evictions have taken place. Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha and the South Korean Ambassador to India, Mr Joon-gyu Lee have also issued statements disclaiming the findings. They are determined to carry on with the project saying that the UN expert recommendations were based on incomplete knowledge and that the POSCO project does not threaten the local community.
“We left our village and came here. In our village we had some facilities but here, there is nothing”, says a woman who shifted to the POSCO transit camp in the hope of a better future in 2007.
“The POSCO hired people always keep an eye on me so I cannot go out to get treatment for the rubber bullets inside me. Many other women have health issues; some have rubber bullets inside their bodies” says Manorama Khatua a leader of the Women’s Wing of the POSCO Pratirodhak Sangram Samiti. She is one of hundreds who face threat of arrests under false cases for opposing the project.
“This project is a classic example of the sort of development we’re pursuing. Just because they live in villages there is an assumption that their economy is not developed whereas it is far more developed than what POSCO proposes,” says Stalin K, Director of Video Volunteers. “The struggle against POSCO is not just about fighting illegal acquisition but questioning the very method of non-consultative development that destroys existing local economies at the name of a notional prosperity.”