POSCO: take land but give life

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

imageThe sight on television was heartbreaking: children lying in rows in the searing sun to be human shields against the takeover of their land for Korean giant POSCO’s mega bucks project. Facing them were armed police sent by the state government to assist in the operation.

The steel plant and port project, located in a coastal district of Odisha, has been in a six-year-long eyeball-to-eyeball battle with people whose land will be acquired. Now with clearances coming through the state government wants the land acquired, at whatever cost it seems. It has put a financial offer on the table, which even pays for encroached government land. It believes this is a lifetime offer people should now accept. Move on, let the project be built and precious foreign investment come to the shores of this poor state.

The question we need to ask once again is why people who look so obviously poor are fighting this project. Why won’t they accept the financial compensation, which gives them an opportunity to start a new life and spare their children the drudgery of growing betel nut? Is it growth and development versus environment or just uninformed, illiterate people or even politically motivated agitators? Is it really as simple as that?

I am afraid not.

POSCO is about growth versus growth. People here are poor but they know that this project will make them poorer. This is the fact that we in the modern economy find difficult to comprehend. This is an area of betel farming done on mostly forestland belonging to the state. Of the 1,620 ha needed for the project 90 per cent, or 1440 ha, is this contested forestland.

When the project site was selected, government did not consider it would have to pay compensation for this land—it was encroached upon by the people, and government would simply take it back for the steel giant. But it was forestland and the people who lived there had cultivated on it for as long as they could remember. This then raised the tricky matter of the conditions under the Forest Rights Act that require people to give their consent to the project. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests overruled its own dissenting committee to say it would have to trust the state government’s version that all procedures were followed in determining that people in these villages were not entitled to this right to decide because they were not traditional forest dwelling community.

With this sorted, environmental and forest clearance was granted. Land acquisition for the project could proceed. But people who were not asked still said no.

Why? After all, the state government says it has accommodated all demands in its offer. It has agreed to limit the acquisition of private dwellings and village land. People will still have homes; they will only lose livelihood. But even that will be compensated. It has agreed to pay for the loss of the use of forestland, even though technically people have no rights over it. The farmers will be paid, according to field reports from Odisha, some Rs 28.75 lakh for each ha of “encroached” betel farmland. Then the package includes provision for payment to wage earners, who will lose livelihood when betel farms go. The severance pay has a sweetener. The government will pay a stipend, limited to a year, for the period people look for “jobs”. In addition, the 460-odd families who lose homes will be resettled in colonies. So why is the generous offer being rejected?

Is it only because of the obduracy of a few people, namely the leaders of one gram panchayat, Dhinkia? This village has locked out the administration for the past three years. All roads to it are barricaded. It is a mutiny, fierce and determined. This village holds out alone because its gram panchayat covers some 55 per cent of the land earmarked for the steel plant, its captive power plant and its private port project. Two other gram panchayats are involved, but their loss is smaller and their leadership is not so strong. But my colleague who visited the residents of the villages waiting in a transit camp for their new houses to be built and handed over, found discontent brewing. Where is our livelihood, people asked? What will we do?

These questions are at the core of the battles raging across the country wherever land is being taken for development but people are losing livelihoods. In yet-to-be POSCO-land, betel farming earns Rs 10-17.5 lakh per ha per year. The compensation is equal to two to three years of earning. In addition, there is the earning from paddy, fish ponds and fruit trees. This land-based economy is employment-intensive. The iron and steel plant, however vital for the nation’s economic growth, cannot provide local employment. For one, local people are not “employable” in such a plant. Two, this modern state-of-the-art plant needs only a limited number of people in its operations.

POSCO is then about growth versus growth. It is just we who have discounted this economy of the land for so long in our understanding of what works and what matters. It is just we who have forgotten that development cannot be development if it takes lives of the very people for whom it is meant. The message is clear: if we want their land, we will have to give them a life.

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  • Piece has nicely brought

    Piece has nicely brought about the strength of the agricultural economy in the place and a comparative with the industrial economy. Local people also say this though activits discuss more on violation of various laws, mainly the FRA

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • ÔÇ£This is an area of betel

    ÔÇ£This is an area of betel farming done on mostly forestland belonging to the state. Of the 1,620 ha needed for the project 90 per cent, or 1440 ha, is this contested forestland. When the project site was selected, government did not consider it would have to pay compensation for this landÔÇöit was encroached upon by the people, and government would simply take it back for the steel giantÔÇØ.

    In this debate of ÔÇÿGrowth & DevelopmentÔÇÖ Vs. ÔÇÿEquity & EnvironmentÔÇÖ, or ÔÇÿGrowth Vs. GrowthÔÇÖ as Narayan calls it; the time has come to inject more radical thought. ArenÔÇÖt all lands inhabited by humans encroached upon by them sometime or the other in the past? For that matter, isnÔÇÖt entire life an encroacher on this planet? What makes one encroachment *legitimate, respected & Moral* over another encroachment? Landownership is either through use of force as in the antiquity, or as it happens even today in wars between states, or when powerful elite grab land belonging to private persons or public; OR through recorded sales & purchases of title deeds to *legally encroached lands*. Essentially therefore, what was acquired by force in the past becomes legal through usage, common acceptance, and recorded transfer of title deeds.

    *.....the people who lived there had cultivated on it for as long as they could remember. .....that people in these villages were not entitled to this right (given by FRA) to decide because they were not traditional forest dwelling community.*

    In connection with this, based on the foregoing issues of ÔÇ£Ownership of LandÔÇØ, following questions emerge.
    1. Why did the government allow forest land to be encroached upon?
    2. Had the government provided livelihood opportunities to the communities so that they donÔÇÖt have to encroach upon forest land?
    Government in the past deliberately ignored encroachment because it failed to provide an economy that would generate employment opportunities on a large scale. That time there was no alternate use for that land. Encroachers through their industry and hard work created self employment, and have been living of the land in an honourable and legit way. And now the government wants to take away that land from them on an excuse that they are not traditional forest dwellers. Is it moral & fair?


    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I completley agree with this

    I completley agree with this analysis.

    We had done a detailed study for the Inter State Council on compensation issues for the resources sector in 2007 and had suggested the following:

    ´éº Acknowledgment of the `criticalityÔÇÖ of some resources through legislation of ÔÇ£no go areasÔÇØ
    ´éº Institutionalize Free Prior Informed Consent
    ´éº Share Resource Royalty with local govt and people through a foundation
    ´éº Partnership arrangements in Schedule V areas- special minerals agreements
    ´éº Need to build trust, and trust is about recognizing mutuality

    In particular, displaced people should be better off as a result of the project than before. This could be in the form of Skill retraining; Alternative employments; Shares in project revenue streams, e.g., redeemable preference shares; Annual lease/rental value ÔÇô could be pegged to a suitable price index so they do not feel they have been disadvantaged; Preferential rights to communities to develop or sub lease mineral property to an operator

    In other words, people have to see what is in it for them when their land is taken not just in money terms, but in long term livelihood opportunities

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I personally stand for

    I personally stand for Rehabilitation before work on any plant starts. But the claim that Beetle land gives 10-17.5 lakhs per year is highly cpntestable. By that account locals would no more remain "poor". Alienation of surrounding coupled with no guarantee of future is depressing enough. But giving false statistics is no remedy for that.

    Mob-0 9823388156

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for highlighting this

    Thanks for highlighting this greedy disposition of the state government in favor of a Korean steel giant. Its a fight of Steel giants versus the (poor with) nerves of steel! A spine less state government and a vindictive central government take opportunistic positions! An indifferent India cares the least!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I think locals getting 10 to

    I think locals getting 10 to 17 Lakhs per hactre is gross exaggeration. By that count, they do not qualify to be poor, which of course is not true.
    Please get your analysis & figure right.

    Madhukar Dube.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Is this really a no go

    Is this really a no go situation?
    How does one take away the land and still give life to those who lose livelihood from these lands?
    Is it possible to make these people the share holders of POSCO at the same footing as those who fund this project with an explicitly added proviso that when the company folds up, the land will be given back to very same people? in today's computerized world, it should not be difficult to keep track of these people ( perhaps an UID can be given to them right at the beginning !)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent article which puts

    Excellent article which puts the whole issue in perspective. Sad thing is that displaced communities eventually disintegrate, become impoverished and sections of them become lumpenised. It is impossible for most communities to transform themselves and their way of life in a few years.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I believe that time has come

    I believe that time has come where in the government needs to recognize that it cannot force "development" down the throats of unwilling people, and more so villagers. Is Naveen Patniak ready to bulldoze the State Secretariat and assembly to make way for a industrial complex? How can they force villages to part with their lands, especially one which gives them employment and shelter? The industrial complex will increase environmental degradation, and moreover it is not going to give employment to villages.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Message should be loud and

    Message should be loud and very clear.Of course it is development vs.development,,but one thing should be amply clear,whether we are interested in development of the sort,which a steel plant and other allied industries bring with it.It is our past experience,which shows that any area where steel plants have come has very fast development in all all directions,starting from Tata Steel Ltd. to Bokaro Steel Ltd.Question arises ,whether we should go for such development at the cost of environment or not.So far as people living in that area,they can be duly compensated with short term as well as proper rehabilitation.There was a proposal mooted some time back that 26% of profit such companies should directly go to individuals of the area where such plants are coming or even mining activities are undertaken.I do not know what happened to that proposal? What I personally feel,neither those who are putting obstruction on behalf of locals nor those taking up development work are sincere in their approach,otherwise solution of this apparently vexed problem is not difficult.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Though the report is very

    Though the report is very good but now alternative has been suggested.
    It is quite easy to criticize any activity or any developement project.
    I am always of the opnion that every activity can be justified as well as critcized as every coin has both sides ( head & tail ) some one can appriciate head while other can appriciate tail.
    In my opinion every one should support the "Developement" even if he/she thinks it "anti mass employment" as is said about POSCO.
    We have seen the results of our "Socialism" in which we always said that our gaint projects should have mass employment & we should not allow MNC,s so that we may use our manpower.
    Democracy being the weakest form of governance poor & illetrate people are always instigated by politicians of otherside.
    So I am of the firm opinion that "Intelluactioals" should always support the policies which are good in imrovement of "economy of the Country"

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Well, Its not only growth v/s

    Well, Its not only growth v/s growth,
    Its India v/s Bharat or Hindustan ( The people who work day and night to keep their family alive and few of them if ever fly, they are called cattle class, by Indians).

    Whose development on the cost of farming ?
    Are the public representatives, judges, public servants who now need luxury cars, first class travel, 6 star stay, and can make declared crore par pear, want more and more for themselves? Yes, the moves like POSCO is just for that.
    The promoter who is blacklisted in many places seems to suit us so well, that our people's govt is ready to kill people or kids to help them.

    A country which is praise world over for its traditions and culture is selling its natural resources for the benefits of few . What a shame and more shame on us, who are silently observing it.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I fully agree with the author

    I fully agree with the author that we cannot deprive the livelihood of the land-owners for the sake of development. Any development has to be a win-win situation to both parties. Trying to impose state might on these poor people, is the root cause for the growth of maosts.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • i agree the country has


    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The article appears as a

    The article appears as a Psuedocommentary on the imperialist actions of Orissa and Government of India.
    It says "It has put a financial offer on the table, which even pays for encroached government land", who decided it is a government land which is encroached, the Orissa government falsely assured the Ministry of Environment and Forests about "Other Traditional Forest Dwellers" .

    The article never questions the intent of the governments here.when it says "take land but give life" can the writer can explain what it means.The governments are illegally encroaching the land belonging to the people using their flawed laws.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • There seems to be some

    There seems to be some confusion regarding the compensation and how much betelvines earn. Here is a clarification based on my visits to POSCO areas as a reporter.

    First the units (100 decimals= 1 acre; 2.5 acre= 1 hectare; therefore, 1 ha= 250 decimals)

    The average holding per family in posco areas is about 10-30 decimals (however, the government never did a primary survey to find out), that is between 1/25 to 1/10 of an ha.

    The compensation is 11,500 Rs per decimal of land. Therefore a farmer with say 20 decimal gets Rs 2 lakh 30 thousand. This patch of 1/5th of an acre earns at least 70-80 thousand per year in profits. Therefore the compensation covers not more than 3 yrs of earnings.

    We might think: well, even if a farmer owns 1 ha of betel vine he will be filthy rich with the compensation money of 28 lakhs. In actuality, their holdings are much smaller. If you go around and ask in these areas you'll see that from a small patch of 10-15 decimals a family gets constant returns of 3,000 to 4000 every month (profits) throughout the year. Thats why the common refrain from villagers: posco will compensate us once, our betel vines compensates us every month, year after year.

    It would have been a different case if the average holding of betel vines was in the range of 1-2 ha. 

    Another crucial thing, according to govt. figures 123 ha is the total area under betel vines on govt./forest land of 1443 ha total. The rest is swathes of sand with bushy vegetation interspersed with fruit and cashew plantations, prawn ponds etc. These are all regular sources of income and in the absence of any primary survey detailing the average earnings for a family, the compensation package seems grossly inadequate.

    Posted by: Sayantan Bera | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Yes Govt should allow this


    Govt should allow this people to mine the ore and sell it to others . That is true govt of the people.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • It is a crucial question all

    It is a crucial question all over India- whose land? whose development? who are the beneficiaries and who are the losers? EVen Government cannot do whatever they like. Let us come to an acceptable solution.
    Aju Mukhopadhyay

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The whole issue is very

    The whole issue is very pointedly and correctly summarised in the last sentences of the editorial that nothing short of life has to be given in return for land.
    The Act of 1894 needs to be changed in the context of development clearly as opposed to growth for the latter does not involve welfare principles.

    Historically when land was being acquired for New Delhi a judge of the court in Delhi disallowed acquisition of land for industrial purpose being equated with public good. Posco is contributing to a company's good which does not bring public good for those in the villages of Odisha who are losing their livelihood.

    Then what about their forest rights? Only if another forest is provided for them will it be compensation. 'Money' is not a correct measurement to evaluate a right to a natural resource which provides a livelihood.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The guiding principle is to

    The guiding principle is to keep villagers wherever they are and let them provide livelihood for themselves in using natural resources, without damaging them. Those people living in traditional lifestyles know what is best for them, not the government andthe private industries who are just there for profits only. The moment the bottom line does not add up they will just leave with all the damages they have caused in the interim period. Accounting system has not developed to a level to account for all the damages, environmental and social to even think of vague notion of compensation. How do you compensate for the flora and fauna, the air the villagers breath, their traditional lifestyles they live and will live and sending them to the cities/ towns, already crowded,destroying their spirits with which they lived all the while. If you want development, a la Korean, bring education, health and sanitation to the people there. What can Korea do, which well intentioned Indians could not do to these people, whose lives you want to tear apart?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Well presented facts about

    Well presented facts about the cacophony of mega bucks in india's urban-centric growth.

    Recall the draft MMDR Act and amendment to the Land Acquisition Act? Whatever happened to them?

    Read the following from The Telegraph, Kolkata dated 17th July 2011."..

    Role for govt in land bill by Basant Kumar Mohanty.

    "...The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council had advocated 100 per cent acquisition by the Government to ensure farmers are properly compensated and not cheated by investors and brokers."

    Today an illiterate child in any Indian village knows that it is only the government that he has to fear the most.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Bottomline, POSCO still

    Bottomline, POSCO still trying becoz its getting free ore. Dont give them ore n see how they fly back to korea. Resource grabbers and patnaik resource dalal. Plain n simple. So keen on industry? Auction ore and share proceeds with locals. But obv, the state czars wont let mines bill pass and govt doesnt hav numbers. Thugs

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • This is such a tough

    This is such a tough situation. Although the new plant cannot guarantee jobs for the evicted locals, there is no denying that it will provide growth for the area. On the other hand, those people will become jobless and there will be increased pollution.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • We cannot send a message that

    We cannot send a message that the land and its riches only belong to the wealthy and powerful. If they are allowed to build there, ignoring those who are already making a living off the land, it might send a signal to other businesses that it is okay to push villagers aside, with a bit of compensation.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply