SOME ADVICE TO POSCO IN ITS ONGOING ENTERPRISE TO COUNTER ACCUSATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ODISHA
by Sudeep Chakravarti *
Here’s some gratuitous advice to Posco and its outreach managers in their ongoing enterprise to specifically counter accusations of human rights violations in Odisha.
They could consider toning down their arrogance. And speaking certain untruths on behalf of the government of Odisha and India in order to protect its projects for a $12 billion integrated steel plant, captive iron ore mines and a captive port.
Take Posco’s response when a top team of United Nations rapporteurs slammed into it for alleged human rights violations in a statement on 1 October. Among other things, the statement released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights mentioned that “people in the project-affected area have reportedly been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as arbitrary detentions and false charges, as a result of their activities to assemble peacefully and collectively defend their human rights”.
Posco said a few things well in a rebuttal issued several days later. “Posco agrees to the premise that Posco does have responsibility to respect human rights even though the government has the primary duty to protect the human rights of the people,”.
Then Posco blew it.
“Posco squarely refutes the allegation that there is violation of human rights in its project area in Odisha,”.
And then really blew it.
“The highest level functionaries (the Indian Prime Minister and the Korean President) have often discussed and reviewed the project. In certain matters, the Supreme Court of India and the National Green Tribunal have also reviewed the project. Had there been any human right violation, it would not be possible that these functionaries and authorities would have simply ignored it. The authorities in India are very sensitive to human right issues. They do not need to be educated by or on behalf of certain vested interest people,”.
This is an altogether bizarre and incorrect assertion to anyone with an understanding of human rights in India, and the nudges and winks that accompany the realpolitik practice. There is also well-documented evidence, in print, television and Internet archives, of Odisha police severely attacking protesters in and around the proposed site for Posco’s steel plant, besides government ignoring gram sabha resolutions against the project.
A tiny example. On 3 February, backed by police, a group of officials from the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha (Idco) forcibly attempted to take possession of 700 acres of land that Posco needed at that time, in addition to the 2,000 acres already acquired on its behalf by Idco. A video of one such official beating protesters with a baton went viral.
Police destroyed betel vines that day in the area of attack in the 700-acre acquisition zone, and even outside it. Men, women and children were roughed up—the most recent of several such incidents. Several owners of betel farms were compelled to accept compensation on the spot.
The government of Odisha has a documented history of viciousness while acquiring or taking possession of land for industrial projects. And India’s documented human rights violations, past and ongoing, by the central government and various state governments would keep interested courts busy for years.
In Posco’s response to another scathing report earlier this year, shepherded among others by a team at New York University’s School of Law, this ironical paragraph on human rights issues leapt out. “…If the police do not act, who will protect the human rights of the local people? Their rights cannot be protected by someone seated in the UK and the USA and writing thesis on them. Posco has no role in maintaining the law and order. It is the duty and discretion of the govt,”.
It is easy to understand Posco’s anxious, vehement, and sometimes contradictory, denials of any human rights wrongdoing in its Odisha projects—even indirectly. The government of Odisha has done whatever it takes to facilitate the project for Posco, including violation of human rights committed by agencies of the state. By its repeated denial of such instances, and repeated, and public, shielding of the government’s actions, Posco may actually be cementing complicity in such actions. Human rights watchdogs are already snapping at the heels of several suppliers and financiers of the project. Censure by portfolio investors would surely be unwelcome.
Posco prides itself as being a signatory to the UN Global Compact. It would then be aware of the first two of 10 Compact principles:
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
* Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land.
(Courtesy: Live Mint)