In another jolt to South Korean steel giant POSCO, a UN Human Rights panel today asked it to immediately halt the $12-billion mega port-to-steel plant project in Odisha alleging possible displacement of thousands of people and disruption in their livelihoods.
"Construction of a mega-steel plant in Odisha should be halted immediately....The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District, and disrupt the livelihoods of many thousands more in the surrounding area," United Nations independent human rights experts have said. Protests against land acquisition for POSCO plant, coupled with regulatory hurdles have kept the proposed plant, billed as the the largest FDI in India, pending for last about eight years.
"Construction of a mega-steel plant in Odisha should be halted immediately," United Nations independent human rights experts said. The construction of a massive steel plant and port in Odisha by POSCO must not proceed as planned without ensuring adequate safeguards and guaranteeing that the rights of the thousands of people are respected, the UN panel said.
The "urgent call" follows a report by rights group in June which said land acquisitions have threatened to displace 22,000 people and deprive thousands of their existence. "People should not be impoverished in the name of development; their rights must take precedence over potential profits," stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepulveda.
"Projects such as these, with such a large potential impact on the rights of people living in poverty, must not go ahead without the meaningful participation, consent and involvement of the community affected," Sepulveda added. The POSCO project required 4,004 acres of land of which the Odisha government had said it had already acquired 2,700 acres of land and handed over 1,700 acres to the steel giant.
"Another 1,000 acres is likely to be handed over to us soon, sufficient to commence work on the first phase of the project but we are awaiting revalidation of the environment clearance," a POSCO official said. He, however, refused to comment on the UN panel report, saying they have still to go through any such report. POSCO in July had pulled out of the USD 6 billion project in Karnataka amid delays in land acquisition and other hurdles. The company has plans to commission Phase 1 of the project in 2018 while officials said phase II would be completed three years after completion of Phase I, and Phase III will be commissioned within three years after Phase II. The state government had signed an MoU with the South Korean company in 2005 for the 12 MTPA (million tonnes per annum) steel facility.
The project will include iron ore mine development over 30 years (total 600 million tonnes) at captive mines located in the Keonjhar and Sundergarh districts of
Orissa, as well as development of related infrastructure. The developments come at a time when steel ministry is pursuing the case of revalidation of environment clearance for the project with the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF). The project is awaiting nod from the MoEF as without revalidation of environment clearance, POSCO will not be in a position to start work.
Posco was granted environment clearance for its project in 2007. On March 30, last year, the environment clearance granted to Posco's steel project had been suspended by the green tribunal which had directed the MoEF to review the clearance afresh. After reviewing the same, the clearance for the steel plant was recommended for revalidation till 2017 by the Expert Appraisal Committee in May.
Meanwhile the UN panel has said that while India has the primary duty to protect the rights of those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by the project, POSCO also has a responsibility to respect human rights, and Korea, where POSCO is based, should also take measures to ensure that businesses based in its territory do not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad. "Forced evictions constitute gross violations of human rights," said the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter said: "People who would be evicted for the POSCO project have relied on their lands for generations in order to obtain adequate food and sustain themselves and their families.". They also urged POSCO to exercise human rights due diligence throughout all stages of their activities, to ensure meaningful consultations with potentially affected stakeholders, to carry out a human rights impact assessment and to act on and incorporate its findings into the project operations.