Orissa is the poorest state in India with official estimate of 39.9 per cent of people living below the poverty line, yet in regard to proposed investment stood at second position after Gujarat. According to Assocham Investment Meter, recorded investment proposals in Orissa reached Rs. 2,00,846 crore (roughly 40 billion USD) in 2009. The cause is the availability of rich mineral resources such as coal and iron ore along with cheap availability of manpower. Steel and power were among the sectors which attracted maximum proposed investments in the state.
The $12 billion Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) project in Orissa is the largest foreign investment project ever in India. This project has three components:
Captive iron ore mines in three areas of Keonjhar District and Sundargarh District. Mining lease on 6204 Hectares in Sundargarh District recommended to be approved by the Supreme Court. Steel plant: in Jagatsinghpur District, coastal area.
Private port: at the mouth of the river Jatadhari, close to steel plant area; the MoU only makes reference to the possibility of a “minor port” being created.
This vast a project of necessity strains the nation’s less than coherent institutional framework, and in the process illuminates today’s ruling forces and the way in which they go about achieving their aims. The elements of the assault are familiar: dispossession of tribal cultivators and the despoiling of the environment.
The parliamentary democracy has made something of a spectacle of the construction of legislation that would appear to strictly regulate, if not prohibit outright, what is today underway in Orissa (the Forest Rights Act, etc. etc.). But statutory language does not interpret itself, and not surprisingly the ministries and judiciary are doing whatever is necessary on behalf of the ruling interests. Thus the tribal cultivators first disappear from the legal reality, before their disappearance from sensous reality itself courtesy of the next “Tribal Hunt” operation of Chidambaram & Co.
POSCO needs some 4004 acres, of which but ten percent belong to the cultivators. The rest of the land required belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in official documentation.
Government records do not show that the vast majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations.
POSCO has delinked the mining project from the plant construction in order to get the vast project underway. A license for over 2,500 hectares for the proposed Khandadhar iron ore mines has been recommended by the Orissa State government, despite opposition from other companies and locals. But existing iron ore mining in the region has already severely impacted the water resources of a large region inhabited by many thousands. In the immediate region of the proposed mines the only constant water source are waterfalls that are already contaminated from iron mining and the water is now not safe for drinking. In the larger surrounding region the Central Underground Water Board has reported that the underground water level in Joda and Barbil river areas has subsided by four metres, that forty percent of the region’s 8,000 tube wells no longer function, and that nearly half of the irrigated land can no longer rely on water from the Khandadhar waterfalls.
The POSCO project as a whole requires an immense impact on one of the last forested areas remaining in central India. Particular concern has been voiced over the State government’s commitment to “facilitate” the provision to POSCO of 7,000 crore liters of water per year for the plant alone from the very limited water resources of the draught ridden state. This assault on the environment can only the comprehended in the context of a mistaken development paradigm, compounded by the brutalities of the post-1991 “reform” neoliberal regime. For an overview, we recommend the website of the Environmental Protection Group, Orissa.
But POSCO is not having a smooth run. The anti-POSCO movement is gearing up again against land acquisition. The POSCO struggle has now acquired strategic importance for other industries and corporate groups that face public agitation for destroying forests. This has added an extra dimension to anti-POSCO movement; caging the aspirations of agitators to basic minimum such as maintenance of status-quo or better compensation is profoundly mistaken. The movement against the POSCO project is the frontline of the most critical global struggle of our time; to preserve an environment in which the next generations can thrive and against the primary enemy of humanity, imperialist capitalism.
When South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was the chief guest of India’s most recent Republic Day celebrations, POSCO was—as always—presented as a “South Korean” company. In fact, it is not. POSCO is owned and controlled from the very center of world capitalism and imperialism in the United States.
The 1997-8 Asian financial crisis (already three financial crises ago) saw a co-ordinated assault on the South Korean currency by Wall Street arbitrageurs, the infamous George Soros and such like. South Korea went to the IMF and was forced to negotiate a “structural reform” cutting its social expenditures, “opening” its financial structures, and limiting its deficit. But this was not enough for Clinton’s U.S. Treasury Department, and—with the U.S. veto over the IMF—they rejected the agreement reached by the IMF and South Korea.
A “SWAT team”—in the words of Business Week magazine—from the U.S. Treasury composed of David Lipton, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner descended upon South Korea to set out the additional imperial demands: control of South Korea’s leading state-nourished industries must be sold to leading U.S. interests at bargain prices. Facing a total financial collapse if dollars were not forthcoming, South Korean leaders gave in. Among the first to go was POSCO. Today U.S. holders of POSCO stock greatly outnumber the South Korean shareholders. By far the largest block of shares in POSCO are the depositary receipts of Bank of New York Mellon, of which the largest holder is CITIGROUP. POSCO shares acquired for US$10 in 1998 sell for US$110 today. It is important for anti-POSCO activists to be aware that when they confront the various South Korean executives, or Orissa State politicians, or Chidambaram’s paramilitary police, that behind them are their masters at CITICORP and the U.S. Treasury.
Chidambaram’s murderous attack on resistance by adivasis to their dispossession is, we read, slated now to be extended to Orissa. If so, the POSCO project due to its size and strategic importance shall unavoidably be a spectacular example of the real—imperialist—interests involved.