Dhinkia, Orissa. Photograph by Sanjit Das. 2011.
Brief excerpts from the executive summary of the fact-finding report by a team of three from Alternative Law Forum and Delhi Forum, after a visit to the Dhinkia panchayat, consisting of the three villages of Dhinkia, Govindpur and Paatna, in Odisha, between 22nd December 2012 to 24th December 2012.
[Read, download, and share the complete fact finding report from here – Captive Democracy: Abuse of criminal system to curb dissent against the POSCO steel plant in Odisha. Feb 2013]
The Government of Orissa and Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), Republic of Korea signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on June 22, 2005 for setting up an Integrated Steel Plant in Orissa, in Jagatsinghpur district, affecting 8 villages of three Gram Panchayats of Kujang Tahsil, i.e. Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Naogaon. The attempts by the district administration to acquire land have been thwarted by strong local opposition starting early 2006, primarily by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, that spearheads the movement against POSCO. In response to this resistance, the State Government has been using the tactic of the abuse of the criminal system to file numerous false criminal complaints against all persons resisting the project, including members of the PPSS leading to threats of arrest perpetually hanging over them.
The fact-finding report observed that the biased and arbitrary functioning of the police targets the villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant, instead of initiating any criminal action against the goons and other persons perpetrating violence against the villagers. The report outlined the following impacts of police actions –
- The filing of false cases to curb this fundamental freedom of the people is nothing short of an attack on the democratic process and the values embedded in the Constitution.
- The filing of cases and warrants against almost 2000 persons has resulted in the targeting of entire villages, who are under constant threat of arrest and have not left the villages in 6-7 years, and whenever they do leave, are constrained to do so surreptitiously. In many cases, entire families have been implicated, resulting in none of them leaving the village for years on end.
- The inability to leave the village has resulted in a complete lack of access to medicines or any medical treatment to the villagers. A team of doctors who visited these villages found that at least 30 women needed urgent medical intervention, else their condition would deteriorate. Most arrests of persons take took place when villagers were compelled to leave the village to visit the doctor requiring medical assistance.
- The inability to leave the village and maintain business ties has adversely impacted this trade which is the major source of livelihood for them
- The Government has taken other forms of coercive action, and terminated government employees for having protested against the POSCO Project, including Shri Babaji Charan Samantara, who worked as postmaster in Dhinkia for 28 years and Shri Kailash Chandra Biswas was employed as a high school peon, at the Government School, Dhinkia, for over 20 years.
Over the last 8 years, the Government has made innumerable attempts to break the struggle against POSCO by employing various arm-twisting tactics. However, what is perhaps the greatest betrayal of the State against its own people, is the use of the criminal system to implicate villagers in a large number of false cases to intimidate them, instill fear in them and break them into submission.These are the days of emergency. A rapidly engulfing emergency where the State is using every underhand trick in the book to counter the legitimate and peaceful voices of dissent.
These are the days where the State does not even batter an eyelid while using water cannons on protestors against violence against women on the streets of Delhi, all under the glare of the media. Far away, where there are no cameras, no soundbites, the suppression is violent, illegal and with impunity. Our visits have revealed one character of the villagers and that is their indomitable spirit and quest for a peaceful and undisturbed life. This is what the struggle against POSCO is. And this is why we have to all join hands and mobilize all democratic means to end this continuing violence to give real meaning to our constitutional ideals.
In the light of the above, we make the following demands:
1. The Government should withdraw all the criminal cases foisted on villagers of POSCO affected villages and other members of PPSS
2. Cases must be immediately registered in regard to the violence perpetrated against the villagers of POSCO affect areas including but not restricted to the following:
a) Against police officials in regard to the violence ob 15th May, 2010 at Balithut circle.
b) Against hired goons in regard to the violence on 14th December, 2011during the peaceful protest against the construction of the coastal road connecting Paradip port to the proposed site of the POSCO steel plant.
3. The Government should immediately conduct an enquiry into the abuse of the criminal system to target villagers and take necessary action against all officials who are involved in the filing of false cases against villagers resisting the POSCO steel plant. The Government should respect and protect the constitutional rights of the villagers to protest and conduct itself in a democratic manner