Open Letter to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on POSCO Order

Dear Sir,

We are writing (again) to you regarding the role that you continue to play in making Indian democracy into a farce that justifies its moniker as a Republic of Scams. Your official order of May 2, 2011 as Minister of Environment and Forests, clearing the diversion of 1253 hectares of forest land for the POSCO project will facilitate the addition of more than 50,000 people, currently prosperous farmers in Jagatsinghpur and neighboring regions, to the ranks of the displaced and the endemically hungry in the Republic of Hunger.1 This is a slap in the face of your own job description which reads: “While implementing these policies and programmes, the Ministry is guided by the principle of sustainable development and enhancement of human well-being.” Allow us to focus on just three of the numerous affronts to democracy and justice heralded by your order.

  1. Shameless Silencing of Citizens of Dhinkia and Gobindpur, India: Your refusal to collect reliable facts and evidence on the working of the key democratic institution of palli sabhas, and instead to sanctimoniously2 ask the people of India to “repose trust in what the state government has so categorically asserted” (point #12 in your order) is shockingly naïve and anti-democratic in spirit and letter. It makes a mockery of the vision of decentralized governance put into place by your own party’s iconic figure, Rajiv Gandhi. As the world now knows all too well “categorical assertions” are made all the time by inveterate liars. The Government of Orissa is no exception to this rule. Alternatively, why not repose the same “trust” in the palli sabhā signatories and the sarpanch who is also an elected official? Were their assertions not as categorical? Better still, why not verify all this for yourself by holding an open palli sabhā meeting (as was offered by the people) with full media coverage and verify the reality? Since you have conveniently chosen to not do this, the world will very soon have the opportunity to see how more than 70% of the residents of Dhinkia and Gobindpur have overwhelmingly registered their resolution to not allow POSCO to take their lands.3 Their blood on your order must force the world to conclude that the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest’s proud claim that “citizens” are one of the “stakeholders” in your Ministry is simple sanctimony.
  2. The Forgotten Reports – Or How to Convene Committees and Damn Democracy: Your order rushed through the clearance to the POSCO steel project even when the indecision around the mines that are critical to the project has not yet been resolved. Indeed, your order goes against the Supreme Court expert committee recommendation which explicitly states:The CEC is of the view that instead of piecemeal diversion of forest land for the project, it would be appropriate that the total forest land required for the project including for mining is assessed and a decision for diversion of forest land is taken for the entire forest land after considering the ecological importance of the area, number of trees required to be felled, adequacy and effectiveness of the R&R plan for the project affected persons and benefits accruing to the State. The diversion of forest land for the plant, without taking a decision for the linked uses particularly the mining project may not be in order (italics added).

    If your order has summarily dismissed the claims of palli sabhas in Jagatsinghpur district, then how does it propose to dispose of the recommendations of the two previous expert committees convened by your government, the Ashish Kothari Committee and the Meena Gupta Committee both of which clearly admit that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims process is yet to be completed in the project villages? We wonder why your ministry went through the exercise of convening these committees if you did not intend to attend to their recommendations.

  3. Economics as Magic – The Unfounded Basis of POSCO’s Benefits: You state baldly in point #18 of your order that “…POSCO project has considerable economic significance …for state and country.” But Sir, what is the evidence for such categorical assertions?  When has even one measly shred of evidence been produced by the Orissa government that stands up to any scholarly scrutiny? As we have pointed out in our yet-to-be-challenged report Iron and Steal, apart from the gross exaggerations of economic benefits of POSCO to the people of Orissa, the single study upon which the GoO and POSCO base their claims (and your government pusillanimously assents) is fundamentally flawed, flouting all norms of scientific measurements of impact assessment since it lacks a baseline economic survey, and violating all ethics of objective research since it is compromised by the fact that POSCO paid for this charade. Indeed the latest reports indicate that POSCO has generated a pitiful 42 jobs after an investment of Rs. 329 crores, a far cry from the claims of generating a flood of jobs for residents of Orissa. Is the MoEF reduced to urging a belief in magic?

There are a host of other deeply problematic issues such as the as the threats to the Paradip port and the as yet unverified environmental impact of the project. Suffice to say that the only thing “sustainable” that your order achieves is the apparent durability of domination of the poor by the rich, of corruption by governments and mega-corporations, and the only thing “enhanced” by your order is further deterioration of the processes of democratic governance and human well-being. In light of this, your high-sounding claim to “not just do the right thing but to do the thing right” (point #19 in your order) makes us wonder what “the thing” is in your imagination?

Ours is an international campaign in solidarity with the people of Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar and Sundargarh who have heroically and non-violently withstood the enormous might of the government of Orissa and the pressures on their life, livelihoods, health, movement and dignity for over six years. Their voices and narratives tell a tale in direct opposition to your orders and one that will ultimately be heard by the democratic listeners of the world. Giving the go ahead for POSCO will give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even more reason to worry about India’s “tainted” image as a violator of the rights of its own citizens.

Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group

  1. India slipped further to rank 67th out of 122 countries in the Global Hunger Index in 2011. []
  2. To remind ourselves, sanctimonious means to be holier-than-thou” or “hypocritically devout” []
  3. See “The Full Story of a Sell Out on POSCO” and the letter written by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Chairperson to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on May 2, 2011 which categorically states the following: “The government has simply lied about the palli sabhā resolutions. It claims there were only 69 and 64 signatures on the resolutions, but the hard copies of the full resolution – with more than 70% quorum in both Dhinkia and Gobindpur villages – were sent by registered post A/D to all Odisha government authorities and to the Ministry. We believe that the Odisha government has deliberately used the scanned electronic copies sent to you, whose covering letter explicitly stated that only the first page of signatures was being included. The hard copies are already with you, and the veracity of their statements can easily be checked. We have already established that these are valid.” []