Campaign for Survival and Dignity
On January 31st the Environment Ministry finally gave its long delayed decision on the POSCO project. The brazen chicanery of this decision is already well known. It asks the Orissa governmen,t already caught lying, to lie again, and promises a forest clearance in exchange; it imposes wonderfully meaningless conditions, such as the craven request that the company “voluntarily sacrifice” water which does not belong to it; and it violates the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. All this is hardly surprising from a government that has shown time and again that it cares a fig for the rights of people.
But the true message of this decision has nothing to do with the “environment” alone. It is quite simple: when a government is faced with real democracy, when it confronts organised people’s power, it will brush aside law, constitution and environment to destroy it. POSCO, the government and the business media all agreed on one point – how could they possibly accept that people themselves could decide on the fate of a project? How could they tolerate the idea – now required by law – that the project could not take forests and forest lands without the consent of the local community? Bring on the guns and the numbers – 51,000 crores, etc. etc. – to justify brazen illegality. Never mind that an international study exposed that this project will destroy far more livelihoods than it creates. Never mind that an official enquiry committee said “such attempts, if allowed to succeed, will result in neither development nor environmental protection, but merely in profiteering.” Who needs to know the facts when bigger issues are at stake. The key question that jarred our nation’s “best minds” was – who are these people to say we cannot take their resources? So what if the law is on their side?
Today land and forests are too important to be left to democracy and the rule of law. Even as the resource grabbing proceeds apace, a great charade has been played out in the media between our supposedly “green” Environment Minister and our supposedly “anti-green” industrialists, all of whom, however, agree at the end: they must control the decisions, not the people. Even when they don’t, they will act like they do; thus, after six years of determined people’s resistance to POSCO, the entire media today talks as if the only opponent of POSCO in India was the Minister. January 31st exposed this “debate” for what it always was: a farcical dance between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On the one side, a Ministry whose only consistent act has been to deny people’s rights; on the other, a big business class that knows only too well that the state is on its side (as a CII representative said, “We know most clearances get through”) but likes to deflect the debate away from the issues and on to personalities.
After the Vedanta mining decision, we called it “a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words.” That betrayal has come true today. Whatever law, democracy and human rights exist in this country are a reflection of the struggles of people. The “rule of law” is upheld by resistance, not by the state. The same is true of environmental protection; it was people’s resistance that stopped Vedanta and it is people’s resistance that will stop POSCO. At least now let us not hear of “green” Ministries and caring policies; the mask has been torn off to show the face of pitiless greed underneath.