Monday, January 31, 2011

Clearance to POSCO Project in Odisha: Taking the Nation for a Ride

With the decision on 31st Jan 2011 to grant clearance to the POSCO project, against strong recommendations of its own committees, the Environment Ministry and its Minister stand exposed. Minister Jairam Ramesh has finally shed the last vestiges of any pretence to be a Minister who is serious about implementing environmental laws.

Ramesh had initially shown much enthusiasm for enforcing to some minimum level the environmental and forestry laws, but soon this was seen to be tapering off, raising questions about whether Ramesh really is different from any earlier Environment Ministers.

He has now shown that the only difference is that he initially huffs and puffs, and breathes fire, (where there is fire, there must be smoke, to rephrase a popular saying, and where there is smoke there must a smoke screen) only to then readily hand over the clearances. The earlier ministers did not even bother about the prior pyrotechnics.

The POSCO clearance can only be described as blatant, and its justifications as insults to the intelligence of Indian citizens. For example, the clearance note put up by the Ministry on the web site announces that clearances have been granted with large number of additional conditions. Such “significant” conditions include following the existing National Ambient Air Quality Standards and ensuring that no industrial activity is carried out in the CRZ area other than permissible under the notification. In other words, the project should follow the law of the land.

Another condition is carrying out the study of the sustainability of water requirement – something which should be done before the clearance, not after. And it requires the Project to “voluntarily sacrifice water” in case of a shortfall at the source. This is a rather touching belief in the Company.

In any case, where the MoEF has hardly any capacity to monitor conditions so that it is a case “impose conditionalities and forget them”, when everyone knows that once a project is given clearance, then even if violations of conditions are noted hardy any action is taken, then what is the sanctity of these conditions? And how can the conditions form the justification of the clearance?

As the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti has stated in its statement “The decision today can be summarised in one sentence: "Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will."”

The Samiti has also stated that “We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project's fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people's resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.

I express my full support and solidarity to their struggle, and wish them strength and success in this fight.

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