We, the undersigned, visited Gobindpur, Dhinkia and Patna villages of Jagatsinhpur district of Orissa, on 22nd December, where the villagers are peacefully resisting the proposed POSCO steel plant for the last six years in order to protect their lands and livelihoods from complete destruction. Our visit was in the aftermath of the incidents of 14th December 2011, during which the peaceful protest against the construction of the coastal road connecting Paradip port to the proposed site of the POSCO steel plant, was viciously and unexpectedly attacked with country-made bombs by hired goons of the local contractor Bapi Circle, who is a known criminal with many pending cases in Odisha. In the process, many protesting villagers, including elderly women, were badly injured. One of the men hired by Bapi Circle was also killed by being accidentally hit with a bomb thrown by his own associates. After this heinous incident, the state government has slapped false charges of murder (Sec 302 of the Indian Penal Code) against 11 key activists of the Posco Protirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), including some who were not even present at the time of the attack. Charges have also been brought against 150 other unnamed villagers. Since our visit, Narayan Reddy from CPI who has been supporting the struggle has been arrested on 23rd December under false charges.This is in continuation with the atrocious practice of slapping false cases against PPSS activists and supporters that has been going on for the last six years, and which now number in the thousands. Fearing arrests, people are unable to leave the villages and access much required medical care and engage in regular economic activities which has taken a terrible toll on their lives and livelihoods.
It should be mentioned in this context that the building of the coastal road was initiated in a completely illegal manner, with no MoU currently existing between POSCO and the Odisha government; irregularities in awarding the benami contract to Paradip Paribahan, which is allegedly controlled by Bapi Circle, is widely known. It is shocking that the contractor could go ahead with building the coastal road and engineer the attack by hired goons, allegedly with active government support, when these illegalities are well known. This is again in line with the entire trajectory of the POSCO project, which has been mired in all sorts of illegal actions over the past six years. Three separate government-appointed committees that investigated various aspects of the POSCO project found that the state and central governments are robbing people’s land in violation of the Forest Rights Act; an official enquiry found that the environmental clearance process was ‘farcical’; and independent economists have established that there is no benefit from this project to the State or the Indian economy.
We, on our visit, witnessed the direct effects of the states high-handedness and its complicity in the physical and economic violence being perpetrated against the legitimate struggle of the people against the POSCO project. We demand:
- An immediate judicial enquiry into the attacks on 14th December 2011.
- Withdrawal of the all newly-filed and previous false cases against villagers and PPSS activists.
Madhumita Dutta, Asit Das, POSCO Protirodh Solidarity
Partho Sarothi Ray, Sudipto Muhuri, Siddhartha Mitra, Sanhati
Sirisha Naidu, Mining Zone Peoples Solidarity Group
Lakshmi Premkumar, Delhi Forum
Pramodini Pradhan, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties-Odisha