Tougher Than Steel: Odisha Community Rally Against Transfer of Their Land, Again

The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) has recommenced their movement and begun resistance against the Government of Odisha’s plans to transfer their land near Paradipin Jagatsinghpur district to a steel company, JSW Utkal Steel Ltd.

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

On September 17, 2019, the Ministry of Environment and Forest accepted the State Government’s proposal to transfer the forest clearance given to the land which was previously acquired for Korean giant POSCO Steel to the Sajjan Jindal-led JSW. Around 447 families are likely to be displaced by the proposed steel project.

The Economic Times had reported that JSW requires 23 million tonnes of iron ore for its plants which have an 18-million tonne annual capacity. It reports that the company was already preparing to lay a 30-million tonne slurry pipeline to carry iron ore from mines in Odisha’s Joda and Barbil districts in the north to its pellet plant in Jajpur, Brahmani River Pellets which it acquired in December 2017 and has also invested in two berths at the Paradip Port.

The History
In 2005, PPSS emerged as a movement in resistance to the intended POSCO-India project. POSCO, the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government to set up a 12-million-tonne-capacity steel project in Jagatsinghpur district.
At nearly Rs. 52,000 crores, the project was the largest source of foreign investment in Indiaat that time.It purported to transfer more than 12,000 acres of land to POSCO, displacing up to 20,000 people in the process. The villagers were additionally denied access to the surrounding forest which was the main source for their livelihoods. The deforestation and crop destruction caused to make space for the plant had severe environmental impacts. reported that the resistance was largely because the project would destroy the betel-based economy which sustained 20,000-odd people from eight villages in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga gram panchayats. About three quarters ofthe total 4,004 acres required for the plant was to come from forestland, which was dotted with around 5,000 betel vines that assured farmers an average income of at least Rs. 20,000 per month.

In 2013, ESCR-Net and the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at NYU School of Law released the report, The Price of Steel, which narrated attempts to forcibly evict the villagers from their land and highlighted the serious violations of international and Indian law.

Prafulla Samantarahad filed a PIL with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) challenging the illegal chopping of more than 2 lakh trees without any government clearances. Writing for Sabrang India, he reported on how district officialsand POSCO India managers had persuaded nearly 40 families to leave their villages with assurance of proper rehabilitation, and were kept in a transit camp for ten years without any civic amenities and human dignity while being portrayed as victims of the anti-POSCO struggle.

In 2017, after more than a decade of resistance in the face of severe state repression including unfounded criminal charges against thousands of activists, the POSCO-India project was finally abandoned. However, rather than returning the land to the communities, it was saved in a so-called ‘land bank’ and recently transferred to another steel company, JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. (JUSL).The PPSS President Abhay Sahu said that police have registered at least 32 cases against the villagers for re-occupying the land and setting up betel vines for which they have already received compensation from the government.

Therefore, the villagers are once again facing their land being transferred to a steel company, which in turn will have serious, negative impacts on their enjoyment of human rights.

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