INDIA / SOUTH KOREA: Majority report of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Committee a vindication of peoples just struggle against POSCO project 

Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward to you the following press release from the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samthi and the Environment Support Group.

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

A Press Release from the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samthi and the Environment Support Group forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The Majority Report of the four member Committee appointed by Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh to go into all issues relating to the environmental and forest clearances granted to the POSCO project in Orissa, has unequivocally recommended the revocation of the environmental, coastal regulation and forest clearances granted to the project. Their voluminous report replete with a variety of findings state one simple fact: that these clearances were secured by deliberately suppressing relevant information by the project proponent, overlooking relevant facts by the regulatory agencies in the Orissa Government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and by systemic engagement with fraudulent methods to push the project through regardless of its social, environmental and economic consequences. That such methods were employed in pushing through the single largest foreign direct investment in Indian history (the initial capital outlay of the project per the MoU is INR 51,000 crores or USD 12 billion) is clearly a statement on the sorry state of affairs in the various regulatory agencies involved in these decisions.

Ms. Meena Gupta, former MoEF Secretary, was appointed the Chairperson of this Committee. In her letter submitting her minority view and the majority report (18 October, 2010), she claims a moral high ground when she states in her letter of transmittal that “though a minority view is not necessarily less valid than a majority view, it is always difficult to be in a majority. You feel safe and vindicated if you are in a majority, if others agree with your views or vice versa. However, if one is convinced about the correctness of one’s decisions, one should not be afraid to go it alone.” By implication claiming she is right and the other three members are, therefore, wrong. This even as Ms. Gupta admits that she was the Secretary of MoEF when the clearances for POSCO were accorded, and that she is also from the Orissa cadre of IAS, and she had accepted the responsibility with “several reservations”. A true demonstration of this moral high ground would be demonstrated in the way she has reported her views.

Ms. Gupta’s bias for POSCO is not revealed as much in her highly opinionated report, as it is in the fact that she drops reference to a critical clause of the TOR of the Committee in her reporting: in recanting the TOR she simply drops reference to a critical clause that the Committee had powers to review compliance with all statutory processes — a really wide brief therefore! For an experienced bureaucrat as Ms. Gupta is, this is no oversight or inadvertent error. This is a deliberate act of obfuscation. This she uses to attack other members of “going beyond the Committee’s terms of reference when they wished to assess not merely the compliance with the clearances granted, but the grant of the clearances, per se”. No wonder that the other members have rightly rebutted such outrageous claims in their letter to the Minister (dated 19.10.2010) in which they expose the fact that “the recommendations of Ms. Gupta are not in accordance with law” and that the “Committee has serious reservations to (such) recommendations” made by her as they are “not only untenable but also legally impermissible”.

Another obfuscation of Ms. Gupta is that she presents the report as one volume, when in fact there are two very independent reports. Further, she has proceeded to merely recommend some additional conditions as ameliorative measures while promoting a business as usual approach — POSCO project should go ahead. Interestingly, Ms. Gupta, despite her long experience in the relevant Ministries feels it is sufficient to do more comprehensive studies of the project’s environmental and social impacts, without really going into the fundamental question if the clearances were at all secured legitimately. Clearly a convenient position to take considering that she was at the helm of affairs at the time. Needles of suspicion pointing somewhere?

The majority report is clear and categorical that the clearances: forests, coastal regulation and environmental, were all obtained by fraudulent means. How so? Firstly, the largest iron ore mining – steel plant — captive port — power complex ever project ever conceived, was deliberately unbundled into its smaller parts. An initial application was made seeking clearance for a 4 MTPA steel complex with a 400 MW power plants, without revealing that POSCO intended to expand to its full approved capacity of 12 MTPA (per 2005 MoU) in just six years. POSCO also presented the port as an independent project when it applied for clearance per the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, when the reality is that it is part and parcel of the steel complex. In fact, the port was claimed to be a minor one, when in fact it involved infrastructure such as 12 kilometres channels and berthing facilities to allow for the passage of CAPESIZE ships — 170,000 DTW capacity — ships approximately 280 m in length, perhaps the largest built in Asia to come into the ecologically sensitive Jatadhar creek. The devastation that such a massive facility would cause is easily imaginable.

POSCO also did not come clean on the fact that it would raise the entire base of the 4000 acres plant area by 5 metres to ensure that the project did not suffer from a super cyclone like the one that slammed Orissa in 1999 (wind speeds of 260 kms, wave heights of 5.6 m, and wave lengths of 100 kms, that swept some 20 kms into the hinterland killing about 15000 people and devastating entire villages). The company also had not revealed that the project was planning to draw water from Hansua river, and not merely the Jobra barrage 86 kms. away. Then there was the deliberate suppression that there would a large township developed, for about 1 lakh people, in which there would be a separate gated community of Koreans, reminiscent of the British Raj and its cantonments. All this takes land, and it was claimed that 4,004 acres was sufficient for the steel plant.

Perhaps it is, perhaps not. Or was it in excess? There is no way to say for sure because the company has been very conservative in sharing information of the exact features of the projects, and the regulatory agencies none to shy to demand facts. Per material produced the 4,000 acres is only for the 12 MTPA plant and the port. What then of the land required for the township, the road networks, the pipeline (86 kms), etc. Not to speak of the glaring fact that 1000 acres of the land in the steel plant complex would entirely be a dumping ground for ash. The consequences can only be imagined in a region that is a major nesting area of Olive Ridley Turtles — critically endangered, and of horse shoe crabs. This is also the region of Paan kethis, because of what the locals say is the sweet soil and water that the massive sand dunes provide — dunes that also shelter them ably from the worst of a cyclones impact. What then of the tidal flats, and the mangroves, the paddies and the wetlands, the delta and so on.

Amazingly, many such concerns did emerge in some of the technical review meetings when POSCO’s environmental and forest clearance applications were considered. Also well known was the fact that about 75% of the land sought is forest land, which is heavily used by local communities — both agrarian and fishing. But a lie had to be manufactured to claim these lands, and the Orissa Government did exactly that when it claimed almost all traditional forest dwellers as ‘encroachers’. The recently enacted Forests Rights Acts that was brought in with the clear intention of restoring these long vitiated rights of local forest dependent communities was deliberately not complied with in the very first year of its implementation.

Were it not for the resurgent movement of the local project affected villagers, none of these facts, perhaps, would have been brought to our collective attention. It is this resistance, fought despite some of the worst police terror tactics and human rights violations, under the leadership of the POSCO Sangram Pratirodh Samith, and the active association of tens of progressive groups, networks and individuals, that today we have an opportunity to revisit completely what can be termed the greatest planned economic and environmental disaster of Orissa — averted.

The majority finding is clear that there is comprehensive violation of the due processes of the Forests Rights Act, in settling traditional and legitimate rights of local communities, and thus the Forest Clearance, now suspended, has to be revoked.

The majority finding is absolutely certain that though critical concerns of the environmental and social impacts of the project were raised in the decision making processes of the Orissa State Pollution Control Board, Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forestst (Bhubaneswar) and also in initial meetings of the Environmental Appraisal Committees of the Ministry, someone pushed the button and ensured that all these concerns were overlooked and the project was put on a fast track to clearance. The dates bear it out. The Statutory Environmental Public Hearing held 15 kilometres away from project affected villages on 15 May 2007 was a ritualistic charade. A month after that the CRZ clearance is accorded and a couple of months later the environmental clearance is granted. The Forest clearance is granted in December 2009 even when it is acknowledged that the Forest Rights Act has not been complied with.

The Majority Report reveals from file notings that there were pressures — especially from the Union Finance Ministry. There are revelations that where there should be only one set of minutes, there are actually two — as in the EAC meeting that finally approved the project in the MOEF. Claims to forest rights are deliberately dismissed on vague technical grounds, in comprehensive violation of the Forest Rights Act. The list of such deliberate underplaying of statutory procedures is endless. In fact almost all features of the clearance are based on fundamental satutory violations. Encouraged by such weak review, POSCO has not at all been concerned about complying with Indian law — in fact the Committee reveals that the Comprehensive EIA of the project was submitted to the regulatory agencies only a couple of weeks ago!

What all this reveals is that the POSCO project is perhaps the greatest fraud in the history of Orissa. Were one to factor in the issues involved in the mining clearances, yet to be secured, particularly the revenue stream costs or losses — given pathetically low royalties now required to be paid, the project is certain to be an amazing exercise in looting Orissa for South Korea’s gain.

On 11th November 2010, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh will visit South Korea. Surely he would want to take good news, and the state that POSCO project in Orissa is in now, is clearly not that. In the coming weeks, the Majority findings will be reviewed by the Forest and Environmental Appraisal Committees of MOEF (perhaps involving the same members who had deliberately underplayed the project’s adverse impacts). Would these Committees step up to the challenge of truthfully implementing the law of the land? Or would they take the lame ground of development has consequences and push through the project? Time will tell.

For project affected communities, the Committee’s majority findings are a strong vindication of their resolute stand that the POSCO project represents the worst form of development — where our nation’s resources are looted, our environment is devastated and Transnational Corporations walk away with tonnes of money, and not merely iron and steel.


1. Given that fraud has been the basis of securing forest, environmental and coastal regulation zone clearances, the Ministry must immediately withdraw these and initiate a comprehensive enquiry to fix individual responsibility of officials involved in this fraud. Concomitantly, all clearances extended by the Pollution Control Board must also be withdrawn. In conformance with criminal procedure provisions of the Environment Protection Act, action must be forthwith initiated against those guilty of committing fraud.

2. The State and Central Governments must scrap this project.

3. All false criminal charges filed against project affected persons and people resisting the POSCO project must be immediately dropped, and those imprisoned must be immediately released.

4. A Judicial Enquiry must be initiated into the human rights violations.

Contacts for further information:

Prasant Paikray
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samthi
Plot No. A/56, Unit 3, Sriya Talkies Road
Bhubaneswar 751001
Tel: +91 9437 571 547

Leo F. Saldanha
Environment Support Group
1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road
Banashankari II Stage
Bangalore 560070
Tel: +91 9448 377 403

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Document Type : Forwarded Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-FPR-056-2010
Countries : India, South Korea,
Issues : Environmental protection,