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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 8, February 12, 2011

POSCO Clearance — Reason Wounded

Saturday 19 February 2011, by Bharat Dogra

On January 31, the Ministry of Environment and Forests gave conditional clearance to the $ 12 billion dollar integrated steel plant and captive port project of the South Korean Pohang Steel Company (commonly called the POSCO project). This clearance, although it is accompanied by 60 conditions, has been widely criticised by social and environmental activists. The resistance group of local people, the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (Committee for Struggle to Resist POSCO), has said that it will continue its movement to protect land, livelihoods and environment from this massive industrial project.

It has been pointed out by critics that in the process of giving this clearance the Government of India has violated its own highly publicised forest rights legislation. The Environment Ministry has also violated its own significant order of August 2009 that underscored the critical role of village councils in confirming the settlement of forest rights. In addition, this clearance has ignored the findings of the experts appointed by the Ministry who had confirmed that forest rights had been violated and the Orissa Government’s officials had connived with company executives to conceal and fabricate facts as well as committed other irregularities.

QUITE apart from these violations, the wider framework which should have been considered relates to the growing discontent among villagers against land acquisition for massive industrial and infrastructure projects. This discontent has been accumulating rapidly particularly during the globalisation years.

Alarmed at this growing discontent, more recently the Government of India had started showing some sensitivity to the need for minimising displacement and loss of land and livelihoods. The need for this sensitivity was particularly great in the case of the POSCO project as here we have seen one of the longest peaceful struggles against displacement in India. A decision in favour of struggling villagers (which would’ve been in keeping with the government’s own laws and expert opinion) would have sent a message of hope to the people struggling on similar issues in India that their concerns will not be sacrificed to appease the big corporates.

Another concern that needs to be kept in mind is that particularly in these times of climate change, policies which protect farmlands, forests and water sources as well as sustainable livelihoods have to be given preference over policies which disrupt sustainable livelihoods and their natural resource base. The life-style based on farm, forest and water sources will certainly cause less GHG emissions compared to the huge steel plant which is proposed to be set up by uprooting livelihoods and the related life-style.

Clearly, there is need for greater sensitivity on the part of the Government of India to protect sustainable livelihoods and environment from the onslaught of multinational companies and other big players.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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