Indian villagers continue resistance to corporate takeover of their lands

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

ESCR-Net members, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) are once again forced to resist the transfer of their land by the government of Odisha, India, to a steel company, despite having previously stopped a similar project.

PPSS emerged in 2005 as a movement in resistance to the intended POSCO-India project. The project was the largest source of foreign investment in the history of India and purported to transfer more than 12,000 acres of land to South Korean company POSCO for the construction of a steel plant, displacing up to 20,000 people in the process. Additionally, by transferring the land to POSCO, villagers were denied access to the surrounding forest which many of them depend upon for their livelihoods. The rampant deforestation and destruction of croplands in preparation for the steel plant construction had severe environmental impacts and left the villagers vulnerable to environmental disasters.

Following the lead of PPSS, several ESCR-Net members engaged in collective advocacy in solidarity with their fellow members. In 2013, ESCR-Net and the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at NYU School of Law released the report, The Price of Steel, which concluded that the attempts to forcibly evict the villagers from their land violated both international and Indian law. Beyond ESCR-Net, several human rights advocates supported the struggle of the villagers, including eight UN Special Rapporteurs sending separate communications to the Indian authorities.

In 2017, after more than a decade of resistance in the face of severe state repression including unfounded criminal charges against thousands of activists, the POSCO-India project was finally abandoned. However, rather than returning the land to the communities, it was saved in a so-called ‘land bank’ and recently transferred to another steel company, JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. (JUSL).

Therefore, the villagers are once again facing their land being transferred to a steel company, which in turn will have serious, negative impacts on their enjoyment of human rights. PPSS are forced to continue their struggle and develop new strategies of resistance to avoid their land and livelihoods being taken away. Some ESCR-Net members are mobilizing in support of the villagers once again. FIAN International recently directed a letter to the state government of Odisha amplifying the demands of PPSS including demanding the land is returned to the villagers and that no projects are taken forward without their free, prior and informed consent.