Petition to NHRC against state violence in Jagatsinghpur

To,
The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
New Delhi

Dear Sir,

We are outraged at the recent surge in state violence and repression against the people of Jagatsinghpur and urge you to act immediately to ensure cessation of state violence and land acquisition for the POSCO project, and withdrawal of police camps from Gobindpur.

Since 2006 the residents of Jagatsinghpur district in the state of Odisha, India, have been resisting forcible land acquisition and the establishment of the POSCO steel plant that threatens complete destruction of their livelihoods and local environment. In contravention of democratic principles, the Government of Odisha has steadily created repressive conditions where trumped up charges and periodic episodes of violence are the norm, instead of engaging with the concerns of the people. The situation is so dire that some residents have not left the village for nearly 6 years even to access much-needed medical care.

This year, the people of Jagatsinghpur have been subject to a constant barrage of extreme violence. On February 3rd, 2013, the police invaded Gobindpur village to resume forcible land acquisition. These operations were temporarily suspended on account of strong resistance from the villagers and protests from outside. Barely a month later, on March 2nd, 2013, bombs were hurled on a meeting room of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) at Patna village, Dhinkia, Jagatsinghpur in the presence of nearly 6 platoons of police who were readying for the forceful land acquisition. These bombs killed three anti-POSCO activists and critically injured one other person. Instead of investigating and condemning the violence inflicted on the people of Jagatsinghpur, the state has concocted a story that places the blame on those who were murdered. It is completely reprehensible that accusations of bomb-making are being levied against a resistance movement which has courageously resisted multiple incidents of violent attacks perpetrated against them.

Taking advantage of the shock of the PPSS activists at losing their friends and loved ones, on 5th March, 12 platoons of armed police led by the District Collector and Superintendent of Police re-entered Gobindpur and destroyed more than 25 betel vine fields, which form the basis of a lucrative local economy. Since then the village of Gobindpur has become a de facto police camp from which the state and hired goons are carrying out nefarious activities, including intimidating those resisting the project.

In the palli sabha meeting of Govindpur and gram sabha meeting of Dhinkia panchayat on October 18, 2012, more than 2000 residents unanimously voted against diversion of land for the POSCO project under provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006. Further, the environmental clearance granted to the project was suspended by the National Green Tribunal on March 30th, 2012, and the MoU with the state government lapsed in 2010. Thus the ongoing land acquisition is not only brutal and undemocratic but also illegal.

We are shocked at the violence inflicted on the people in Jagatsinghpur who have been protesting against the POSCO project. Not only has the state of Odisha failed to follow due process in clearing the POSCO project, it has frequently inflicted physical violence on people democratically exercising their right to land under the Forest Rights Act. In the last few years, the police (and mercenaries of BJD and POSCO) have laid siege to a few villages in Jagatsinghpur, severely limiting the mobility of the affected people. A recent report, released by the Alternative Law Forum, titled “Captive Democracy” clearly establishes a longstanding pattern of filing false cases to curb dissent against the POSCO project. Such conduct is unbecoming of a government claiming to represent the people, and we demand that the errant officials be held accountable. We also strongly condemn the attack on March 2nd on the village, which has left three members of PPSS dead and one seriously injured, and the cynical use of this tragedy to speed up land acquisition in Gobindpur village.

Based on the pattern of state violence, we have every reason to fear that the current lull in police violence and land acquisition might not last after the end of the current session of the Odisha assembly on April 6th. We join a recent fact-finding team in demanding the following:
1. A high-level judicial enquiry into the bomb blast incident resulting in the death of three persons and injury to one person, to ascertain the truth of the matter.
2. The immediate withdrawal of the police camp from Gobindpur village as it is contributing to escalating tensions in the area.
3. The cessation of the land acquisition process forthwith in the Dhinkia panchayat area including Gobindpur village.
4. Compensation on humanitarian grounds to the families of the deceased who were killed in the bomb blast and proper medical help for the injured person.

We strongly urge you to use your high office to ensure speedy justice to the people of Jagatsinghpur, Odisha.

Sincerely,

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