POSCO project affected persons live under siege

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POSCOHYDERABAD, June 29;A fresh compilation of investigative testimonies gathered from communities affected by controversial POSCO-India steel project in Odisha captures in graphic detail their sufferings from forced eviction and worst ever human rights violations they had endured for the last eight years .

The report, “The Price of Steel: Human Rights and Forced Evictions in the POSCO-India project”, released on Friday noted that the Indian authorities have actively targeted those who speak out against the project with violence and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

In fact, at least 11 persons were injured on Friday in a lathi-charge on villagers opposing land acquisition for the project in Dhinkia area of Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district. The police resorted to lathi-charge when residents of Gobindpur village came out to prevent the administration from destroying their betel vineyards to acquire land for the project. Sixteen vineyards were pulled down in the land acquisition exercise that was resumed after two weeks.

The report produced by the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of the New York University School of Law and International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) makes an impassioned appeal to Government of India and South Korean steel giant, POSCO to suspend the project and end to abuses “before they become even more catastrophic in scale”. Not only rights abuses, illegal acquisition of lands which threaten to forcibly displace 22,000 people should be halted.

The $12 billion POSCO-India project, involving the single largest FDI in India and acquisition of 12,000 acres including 4000 acres for an integrated steel plant and captive port in an area that is home to forest-dwelling communities and a vibrant and sustainable local economy centred around betel leaf cultivation, the report points out.

“Local police have barricaded villages, occupied schools, levelled [made] thousands of fabricated criminal charges against individuals opposing the project and have refused to protect individuals from consistent attacks by private actors who are allegedly motivated by the interests of the company and of the State”, the report, put together by research team in a year-long investigation, has noted.

The result of these abuses is that communities in the project- affected area have been living under siege, which affected a host of economic and social rights including villagers’ right to work, health, education and food.

The report highlights how Indian authorities have engaged in the illegal use of force against them and then denied access to medical care. Citing an incident at Balitutha, the entrance to the proposed project, police had attacked fleeing protestors using tear gas, rubber bullets, metal pellets and batons injuring over 100 people, five of them seriously.

The team quotes a Dalit woman: This is our only land, even though we have no land rights. If you take away our land we will die. You should tell the government: don’t take away our land. You are trying to frighten us with bullets and guns. We have already taken a lot of bullets like at Balitutha Bridge. I was hit and people had to pick me up and bring me back. When the police started firing we couldn’t find any way to escape. We had to jump in the water and even then they kept firing”.

Anti- POSCO People’s Movement president, Abhay Sahoo was arrested three times and continues to be in pre-trial detention. Many community members interviewed indicated that they had not left their villages for six to seven years.

The team found that India’s attempts to forcibly evict communities like betel leaf farmers, fisherfolk and Dalits, who through sustained and peaceful opposition have effectively stalled the project, stood in violation of international and domestic laws including Forest Rights Act. “Project affected communities are living under siege and suffering severe violations of their fundamental human rights. India must act now to end these abuses and put the rights of people ahead of the needs of corporation”, Prof. Smitha Narula, co-author of the report and Faculty Director of IHRC said.

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