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Solidarity with Kujanga People’s Movement against POSCO invasion of Orissa

Just yesterday newspapers in India carried news item - some on the front page about abduction of South Korean company Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) in Orissa that is seeking to invest single largest foreign direct investments (FDI) in India at Rs.54,000 crores. The abductions that took place included that of the Managing director, a Korean national, another Korean official of the company and the Indian hired by the foreign firm, on 13th October 2007. It was however not the first time the abductions taking place. In April 2007 too POSCO officials were abducted and released.

I was part of the group put together by The Other Media, New Delhi to visit Dinkiya village – one of the richest villages of Orissa and now target of the POSCO investments - and have first hand exposure to investments that threaten to trample Peoples rights. Here are some of my observations after interacting with POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) Chairman Abhai Sahu on 28th September 2007.

MoU

POSCO and Orissa government signed Memorandum of Understanding to this project near Paradeep Port on 22nd November 2005. Soon the protests began in the form Court arrests, awareness campaigns in the three villages that are likely to get wiped off in the project comes through – Dhinkia, Nuaga and Godokujong Panchayats. The MoU is for setting up of Steel plant and construction of captive port for the company 7 kilometers away from the Paradeep Port at the Zatadhar Sea bed covering 519 acres of space.

Government is trying to hand over nearly 500 acres of legally government land to the Korean transnational corporation for the purpose of its project. This land originally b belonged to the people who cultivate but thanks to the process of state formations it was transferred to king Vardhaman from West Bengal who in turned leased it out to the private parties, and ultimately Indira Gandhi government nationalized these land in the mid of 1970s decade.

PPSS ground of Objections

PPSS objects to the projects on many grounds: Firstly, it is opposed to Industrialization at the cost established agricultural economy. Any attempts to do this will be opposed. Secondly, it is opposed to location of Industry at the dense forest area. The POSCO plant is capital intensive and not labour intensive. The current beetle nut cultivation in the village creates employment not only to the villagers but also for those in the neighboring villages ranging from 9-90 in age. Its existing agrarian economy is employment generating industry that POSCO is hardly a match. Poorest family in these villages is the one earns Rs.10,000/- per month!

Its beetle nut leaves are not only through out India but also exported to Middle East Asia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This conducive natural atmosphere is what is needed for this cultivation is prevailing in this Kujanga region of Jagansinghpur district of Orissa. In the face of such a prosperous local economy with global ties one questions the logic of getting POSCO to invest here. Cashew, coconut, Pisciculture is economies of these villages under people's control.

Rights violations

There have been several instances of terror unleashed due to opposition to the POSCO project. Police, Company officials have created nexus to administer repressive measures. Bombings were carried on at check gates created by the PPSS, beating up of the people opposed to the project, and of course, the unleashing of goodas on the protestors. For nearly two weeks villagers were not a District collector suspended the supply of control commodities and the Old age pensions to the villages protesting the project! Once the suspension was revoked after the press and public opinion turned against the State, villagers were denied access on the public roads by the hired goons of the Korean corporate. It was only when the villagers showed unity and counter attacked the goons that they were able to reclaim the right over the public road. Nearly 130 criminal cases have been registered against the members of the PPSS that includes its Chairman Abhai Sahoo and its secretary Sisir Mahapatra.

Spirited Protests

However police have not been able to affect the arrests because the villagers have organized themselves and blocked all the roads to their villages. Check gates are created, 24 hours patrolling is carried on, every vehicle passing into the village is checked, interrogated and if it belonged to the State government or to the POSCO company is denied entry to the village. Daily meetings of the villagers and those offering solidarity are held near the Dinkiya village market and well attended and addressed by Women many of them from tribal groups. The road blockades according to PPSS will continue till POSCO lays its hands off their villages. The protests are likely to be intensified further as other Corporate in the State are putting Orissa government under pressure to invoke repression and hand over the necessary land to POSCO. The movements in Orissa of course has Kalinganagar massacre as backgrounder – a symbol of anti-corporate movement of common People of India.

Land titles

It is very important for the movement while continue to fight POSCO also gradually take up the question of land tittles. While it is advantageous on the one hand that the land under dispute is government lands, on the other hands villagers legally are illegal occupants of the lands. The possibilities must be worked out to get the land titles in the name Peoples' organization and no longer it must be let alone as government lands. It requires deeper reflections as how to achieve this in the months ahead – once POSCO goes away abandoning their project.

Appeal for Solidarity

Do get in touch with the movements in Orissa and offer your solidarity. You may also inquire about the kind of solidarity required. You may contact Abhai Sahoo at his mobile no. 09938425210, e-mail: abhaiorissa@yahoo.co.in. You may also contact Nikunj Bhai at his mobile 09937364401, email: nikunj45@yahoo.co.in.

Sebastian Rodrigues

15th October 2007

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