Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inhuman Land Acquisition for POSCO STEEL in Odisha: Is There a Better Way ?

I felt very bad when I watched some TV news programs showing the flight and plight of the poor peasants of Odisha (formerly Orissa State) whose land the state government wants to forcefully occupy for leasing out to a Korean steel company POSCO for their proposed 12 Million Tonne Per Annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant (ISP).
I watched news clippings showing the brutal way the Odisha Police acted on the helpless villagers including the women and the children who have been resisting the state administration to forcefully occupy their only means of existence and survival-their small pieces of land. The policemen who were being used for this purpose looked no different from the villagers, except that they were wearing the uniforms and had the weapons of torture. In all possibility some of them might have been acting against their own mothers, brothers or relatives helplessly obeying the orders of their bosses.
Just as the villagers were helpless, the policemen (and women) too were helpless! Perhaps those bureaucrats and administrators through whom the eviction orders were passed too were helpless in their own individual capacities!

Again all these for a company who boasts of high human values boldly in their website [just open the Indian website of POSCO which displays their mission, vision and core values. Had they honestly stood for these, perhaps such things would never have happened ! ]
And what necessitated all these inhuman acts?
POSCO responded to the state government’s call, agreeing for investment in the state, rich in mineral resources, to set up a big ISP. Accordingly a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the state government and the Korean steel company some time in 2005. The deal was going to be a boon for both sides.
Seven years passed and nothing happened. No steel plant so far came up.
The actual reason for this delay is said to be the dirty politics between the Central and the state governments. India is truly a federal country with various constitutional authorities fully free to work in the way think the best which usually end up contradictory to each other! Democracy here seems to be something which is directionless !

Now finally the Supreme Court came to the support of the state government by giving a verdict in favor of it to acquire land for the project the way they had planned for handing it over to the Koreans.
For setting up their steel plant, POSCO wanted about 4000 acres of land in one stretch and based on various considerations they have finally zeroed in to the land in some villages in the Lanjigarh Tehsil of Kalahandi District of Odisha State.
Out of which some 2500 acres of land belonged to the state government and the rest with the villagers. It may also be true that many landless or poor peasants might have been using some stretches of the government land for the past many years for seasonal cultivations of various crops as they find it lying vacant without any useful activity. Over the years these people might also have become wholly dependant on this land for their survival, though legally they have no right over those lands.
For acquiring the land- the villagers land-  the government has fixed a price of Rs.100,000/- approximately per acre of land [equivalent of about US$ 2000] as compensation for those who owned the small pieces of land.

Who owned the land and who possessed it illegally are all matters to be decided by the law.
India is a very peculiar country. There could be many countries like it in this world as far as peculiarities are concerned.

It is a country where the laws are truly blind. Blind to understand the feelings of helpless individuals who get trapped pathetically when laws get applied blindly! Both the law makers and the law executors seem to be proud of this fact. They are often proud to declare the blind nature of the laws for which they are the custodians and the executors.
Once the authorities decide to acquire lands of the people for the purpose of something that they had decided for general public interest, the ordinances are promulgated blindly.
It is the duty of the affected ones to find whether such ordinances have been issued by the authorities or not. The authorities are not responsible for telling each and every one affected. Their responsibility is over by publishing the order in some newspapers or in the government gazettes.
The affected land owners and landless land users, whether they know reading or writing or not, have to approach the authorities in the towns or cities or in some unknown location or hideouts (because it is not easy for anyone to locate a government office easily !). They have to prove the ownership of their lands that they have been using for decades!  They have to accept the compensation or no compensation as decided by the authorities and quit their homes and lands on which they have been existing so far.
Most likely some of them, even those of them who are legal owners of the land, may not get the compensation so easily in the near future, unless they complete all formalities. It is a lengthy legal procedure. Again remember, the law has no eyes and ears! Those occupied the government lands, no doubt will not get anything, eventhough they are all Indian citizens having the minuscule fractional power to elect their democratic governments.
Where do the poor villagers go? Even if they get their compensation money, that will not be sufficient for them to get another house or to set up their livelihood. But that is not the problem of the government or its executors. Because they all work for and with the blind inhuman laws! Don't ask them how these laws came. Most of them are bound to put the responsibility of all the ills of the laws on those Britishers who all perished centuries ago !
If the villagers have no shelter from the next day and they are going to be starved to death, that is their problem. If they refuse to obey the laws on account of their problems, the laws will not act immediately to solve their problems. But the laws will ruthlessly and swifly act if the dictat of the laws are opposed ! Because laws are indeed without ears and eyes (to hear the cries and the tears of the helpless citizens)!
Indian laws may be slow to act to provide relief to any one, but they are indeed quick to act against those who do not obey certain kind of laws. If those fellows, who have been ordered to get out, do not obey, they will be kicked out using brutal force! If they get killed, that would not be seen by the laws!
Only those not connected with the laws could weep and sympathize for them. They can  see their plight and hear their cries. But they too can only weep with them, nothing else! Because interfering while the law is acting is a much more serious offence ! The majority Indians have learnt this by experience. It is better to be far away from the laws and the law enforcers if you want to live peacefully !

When the process of the law and justice proceed blindly, no one with some clear common sense can think otherwise !
But I was just thinking, a wishful thought, knowing well that it is not going to make any difference.

I was thinking about this land acquisition affair of Odisha for POSCO.
Can it not be done in a better way? Is it such a big problem to do it in a better way ?
After all, the POSCO people have estimated their plant to cost US$ 12 billion. That is nearly Rs.60,000 Crores.
If 10 % of that cost is towards land acquisition (which is normally the case in the case of any green field industrial project) Rs.6000 Crore should be available for land acquisition. That amounts to a neat Rs 150,00,000 per acre of land [6000,00,00,000 / 4000].

But here the compensation decided to be paid to the villagers is just Rs.100,000/-. That means the villagers are paid just not even pea nuts. I have no idea, how much was paid to the state government for its 2500 odd acres of land !

Anyway these are wild guess from  a common man ! I am not considering those deals that happen behind the curtains !
Now, let us assume that the government and M/s POSCO had thought to do it adopting a humane approach instead of going for the blind law approach.
Let us assume that the 1500 acres of land the villagers have to part with belong to about 2000 families and M/s POSCO  are willing to spend  a lump sum of about Rs 1000,000 per each of the family affected in addition to money at Rs.100,000/- per acre of land as compensation.
POSCO could have easily planned a sector in their proposed steel plant township for accommodating all these 2000 families. This rehabilitation work could have been started in the government owned land first. By earmarking about 2000 sq.ft of land per family this would have needed a maximum of about 90 acres of land or just 2.25 % of the total land requirement. It is yet another matter that they could have even reduced this further by considering multi storied dwelling units.
The maximum cost for rehabilitation of the affected villagers this way could have been just Rs 215 Crores or a mere 0.35 % of their estimated project cost which included the costs for a decent rehabilitation of the villagers by providing them decent accommodations and giving compensation to their lands as per present market rates.
The state government and the company also could have thought of providing jobs to each of the affected family members in their proposed steel plant or making some other provision for ensuring their livelihood on a long term basis.
None of these provisions would have any adverse economic impact on the techno-economics of their proposed steel plant.
After all, if the government and the company do not think about their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) why should anyone need a steel plant?
Once the steel plant is established and towns develop around it, the cost of the land around it would sky rocket. The company and the governments would be the biggest benefactors. Besides the many thousand people from other parts of the state and the country.
But that should not exclude the poor residents of the area. Their rights should be protected and honored.

For that you need to interact with the people of the area in a civilized and humanely manner. You have to convince them of the benefits and show honestly that you would not cheat them and backtrack from your promises. You should not scare the people with your beaconed lights and your offical weapons.
If the laws of the country do not allow such a thing, not even God can save this country ! The people want their elected representatives to serve them and not to exploit them !

That was why they rallied behind those leaders of yester years to oppose the British rule.

That time it was rather easy. To get rid of the foreigners.

But now what do they do ?

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