The situation in Odisha get worse everyday and as we sit in front of our television sets each night one cannot help but wonder why the media does not present the news the way it should be. Recently the police attacked and lathi charged peaceful protesters in the village of Nuagaon, Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha.
When the struggle of the villagers against POSCO is shown as a deterrent to “progress”, there are questions we must seek to ask. What progress are we talking about exactly? One more steel plant will lead to what exactly? Why must people suffer when ten industrialists decide to produce the same thing and play competitive games in the name of free market and all the while people must lose their lands to these profit makers? Must we accept their laissez-faire agenda at the cost of the homes and livelihoods of the people?
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has given its clearance for the POSCO plant to be set up. It feels that it is fine for villagers to be displaced and a plant be set up instead. Where exactly do the MOEF ministers and functionaries live? Do they live in jungles? People have been living in harmony with their surroundings in the village where the POSCO plant will be set up. Does the MOEF really think a plant that is in no way concerned about the environment but with production and making profit will care to ensure it disposes of the waste properly, that it will not suddenly take up more than its share of land and make things worse? Just because companies now have CSR divisions, it does not make them likely to care.
Authorities said villagers have encroached upon large patch of the forest land illegally and they need to be vacated. What makes it legal for POSCO to take up the same land? When humans encroach upon land without having paid the authorities (having no money to give to the government makes anyone illegal) then it is obvious the authorities will throw them out if someone is willing to pay huge amounts to take that land. How much devastation can a farming village cause to a forest as opposed to a Steel Plant? You do the math. Where in the MOEF charter does it say that big industries setting up plants, benefits the forest. A steel plant and an organic plant are not the same thing in case the department isn’t aware.
The protesters of Nuagaon were seeking to protect their forests and trees from being cleared by the police as part of the government’s land grab for the POSCO project, after they were lathi charged the entire village joined the protest and managed to force the police to retreat. It seems the villagers care more for the forest than the forest department.
The situation does not come as a surprise. The land and rights of the people are sabotaged under the veil of progress and free/fair competition many a times. The plot is simple, go into a region, displace, set up plant/factory, and let the government worry about placements and appeasement of the erstwhile inhabitants.
In such conditions, we must stand and support the just struggle of the villages who fight the establishment of the POSCO plant.
Various organisations that are fighting hand in hand with the villagers are together rightfully demanding:
- An immediate halt to all police operations in the proposed project area and the withdrawal of the police from the area;
- The cancellation of the illegal forest and environmental clearances granted to the POSCO project;
- The implementation of the Forest Rights Act and all other pro people laws in the area;
- Prosecution and punishment of the officials and police responsible for the atrocities and violations of law in the area;
- A cancellation of the POSCO project and an end to the six year long attack on the people of the area for the purposes of this project.
The fight of the villagers and their supporters is worthy of applaud and support from all corners of the country. They are ensuring that they remind our ever changing government of the duties it has towards its people and the environment. Duties it has long forgotten.
By Surkhraj Kaur