Communities resist state sanctioned land grab in Jagatsinghpur, India
Communities in Jagatsinghpur district in eastern India have protested against illegal state-backed land grabs for nearly two decades – first against Korean steel giant POSCO and now against a subsidiary of the Indian steel major Jindal Steel Works (JSW) group. The blatant disregard Indian authorities have shown for the local peasant communities’ human rights is a clear example of the need for a UN binding treaty to hold corporations to account.
Local communities have been facing eviction, loss of livelihood, and criminalization since 2005, when their land was first forcibly allocated to the now abandoned POSCO steel project. That project sparked strong local resistance against the environmental destruction and illegal seizure of community land on which local people largely depend on to make their livelihoods cultivating betel vines and cashew trees.
Disastrous human rights impacts
Their struggle forced POSCO to withdraw in 2017. But then Odisha’s state government handed the community’s land to JSW subsidiary, JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. (JUSL) prompting local communities in Dhinkia, Nuagaon, Govindpur and neighboring villages to continue their struggle that began with POSCO.
The new planned megaproject includes an integrated steel factory, a sea port, a cement grinding plant, mines and a power plant. If it goes ahead it would displace up to 40,000 people, according to estimations, with disastrous impacts on their rights to food, water, work, health, adequate housing, as well as a healthy environment.
Most local people are agricultural workers and fishers. Their livelihoods are based on the rich biodiversity and fertility of the area. Many are daily wage labourers from the marginalized Dalit community who already live in precarious economic circumstances.
State authorities have pushed through plans to forcefully evict them and strip them of their livelihoods in clear breach of existing laws and court orders, with total disregard for India’s international human rights obligations and without the consent of the affected communities. The Ministry for Environment approved the project despite many irregularities.
Violent repression and arbitrary arrests
Ever since the first violent land grabs in 2005, villagers have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention. According to the Anti-Jindal & Anti-POSCO Movement, anyone involved in protests faces criminalisation with an estimated 400 cases pending and warrants issued for about 700 people.
The situation has escalated since December 2021, when police attempted to arrest a village leader in Dhinkia village, the epicentre of the protest. Subsequently, the administration began destroying the communities’ valuable betel fields. On January 14, a group of about 500 people were attacked by police who injured many of them including women, children and the elderly. Since then the area around Dhinkia village has been heavily militarized with local people placed under close surveillance, and subjected to regular ID checks and harassment including arbitrary arrests which have robbed many of their livelihoods.
“I couldn’t go to my daily work being a daily wage laborer working in the nearby betel vines of our village Dhinkia along with my son,” said one villager.
“After the horrific incident by the police brutality on 14th January 2022 we were forced to be in exile with my entire family but eventually got arrested and been kept in judicial custody for more than a month with my wife and 18-year-old daughter. My son and his wife are still in exile to avoid arrest. My family got ruined due to the forceful betel vines demolition and police atrocity.”
The situation in Jagatsinghpur demonstrates clearly the degree of influence and grip that powerful companies often have over state institutions. It highlights the urgent need for a binding UN treaty to reiterate the primacy of human rights over investment agreements.
This should include provisions not only in relation to the state’s obligation to protect human rights from the harmful activities of business enterprises, but also to respect human rights by ensuring states do not violate human rights by facilitating projects such as those supported by Indian authorities in Jagatsinghpur.
Read FIAN's UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission here
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