Open letter to the European public

July 17, 2012

Dear friend in Europe:

For over seven years now, the lives and livelihoods of more than 40,000 people of coastal Odisha in eastern India have been devastated by attempts at violent displacement and combined attacks by the national and state governments, acting on behalf of the South Korean steel giant POSCO. A large number of those affected are poor or marginal peasants, including Adivasis (indigenous people) living on local forest tracts.

The lives of these farmers, as well as those of other members of the local community, such as craftsmen, fishermen and small traders, are intricately linked to yours as it may be your money, through your investments, that enables POSCO to pursue projects such as the one in Odisha where the forcible takeover of land and destruction of livelihoods appears to be its modus operandi. Pension funds such as the Dutch ABP and the Norwegian GPFG (Government Pension Fund Global) hold considerable investments in POSCO. Your gains and theirs are linked – unfortunately negatively – as POSCO’s desire to keep the value of its stock high necessarily means that it employs whatever means it can get away with to enhance its profits. In this, tragically, POSCO is aided by the Indian central government and the Odisha state government, who continue to push forward despite reports from government oversight bodies and court rulings that have exposed gross violations of the law.

We are writing today as members of a research and advocacy group based in the U.S., the Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group (MZPSG) that has closely followed the POSCO case. We released a detailed study of the expected impact of this project in late 2010, titled “Iron and Steal: The POSCO-India Story.”

In early 2012, the three undersigned members of MZPSG travelled to Jagatsinghpur where POSCO proposes to build the steel plant and dedicated port, and to the proposed mining areas in the Khandadhar hills. The purpose of this fact-finding trip was to record, substantiate and verify claims of deteriorating health, educational and livelihood conditions in the villages at the proposed project sites. We summarize our findings below and provide some background information so you can take immediate action.

The POSCO project consists of a steel plant with a 12 million ton annual production capacity, and a private captive port on the coast in the Jagatsinghpur area (ongoing negotiations between the state government and POSCO may result in POSCO ‘settling’ for a dedicated berth at the existing Paradip port instead of building a new port), and iron mines in the Khandadhar hills of Northern Odisha. The project will destroy the livelihoods of local farming and fishing communities, displace villagers from their homes and farms, and block their access to natural resources. The people of Jagatsinghpur have therefore been most vocal in their opposition and have built a robust, non-violent movement over the last seven years. However, the state government, instead of protecting the democratic rights of people to resist large-scale industrial and resource extraction activity that will threaten their very survival, has unleashed the state’s capacity for force to repress the demands of the people. Such repression has taken the form of attacks on unarmed protesters by police and paramilitary forces, blocking access to medical care and educational services, and filing of false criminal cases — including extremely serious charges such as murder, rape and extortion, among others — against local activists and supporters. MZPSG’s visit to this area was undertaken in the aftermath of one such attack on the protesting villagers by armed militias formed by local building contractors who stand to benefit from the project. The attackers used IEDs (“country-made” bombs) which seriously injured many villagers, including the elderly. Instead of providing protection to the villagers and prosecuting the attackers, the state administration has instead slapped a false charge of murder against the villagers, adding to the few thousand false charges already filed by the local police against protesters.

The state police and private mercenaries have thus created an atmosphere of fear and dread among local residents, resulting in a state of siege where people are unwilling to leave their villages for fear of being arrested and thrown into prison, or worse. This has taken a terrible toll on their lives and livelihoods. Many within these villages require serious medical attention, only available outside their villages. Those injured reported to the visiting MZPSG members that they were unable to seek medical assistance.  We invite you to watch this 14-minute video titled “Dividends of Resistance,” which presents testimonials by local villagers as to the impact of the project on their lives and the reasons for their opposition to it, and the repression they have been subjected to for expressing their opposition.

The mining area in the Khandadhar hills had not suffered a similar fate until recently when, on April 15, 2012, officials and workers of the Odisha State Forest Department burned the homes of 20 families of the Paudi Bhuiyan community in the forests under Bonai subdivision of Sundargarh district (the Paudi Bhuiyan are a so-called ‘primitive’ tribal group who have lived in the forested hill tracts since before recorded history). POSCO has been granted mining rights to the Khandadhar hills but the local residents have refused to give up their ancestral lands. Villagers in this area, many of them Adivasis (indigenous people), are fearful of being marginalized in the decision-making process. They are particularly concerned about the state of the local environment which has many unique features in terms of its wildlife and geological terrain.

Given that claims by POSCO and the Odisha state government about the economic benefits of the project are based on shaky assumptions and unverifiable data, as demonstrated by MZPSG’s report, among others, and since various government agencies and government-appointed committees, including the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the National Green Tribunal of India, and the Supreme Court of India have found that the processes of land acquisition and environmental clearance of the project have been both undemocratic and illegal, we submit to you that divestment from POSCO is the only responsible course of action.

As people around the globe raise their voices against rapacious corporations which make gains at the expense of working people, we ask you to consider whether your retirement and your well-being should be derived, in however small a measure, from a company that is able to produce a high return on shaky economic and ethical grounds. Please write to the ABP in the Netherlands (Mr. Jeroen Schreur, Head of investments), and to the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (Professor dr. juris Ola Mestad, Chair, Council on Ethics, GPFG) to divest completely from POSCO.

Anu Mandavilli                 Biju Mathew               Sirisha Naidu

Informational Links
1.        Iron and Steal: The POSCO-India Story
2.        Full text of Appeal from PPSS to the shareholders of POSCO
3.        The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India
4.        The report of the National Green Tribunal of India

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