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Smita Narula of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) is an expert on Posco’s India story. Last year, along with the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), Narula had worked on a telling investigative report, The Price of Steel. Excerpts from an interview with Lola Nayar.
What was your reaction to Posco’s steel project getting a nod?
Recent moves to push forward with the Posco-India project signal a profound disregard for the human rights of thousands of people who stand to be directly affected. Both the government of India and Posco have failed to adequately address serious and well-founded human rights and environmental concerns. We’re not alone in raising these concerns. They have also been raised by a panel of independent UN human rights experts and by countless other organisations and individuals both within and outside of India.
What do you consider the most distressing human rights abuses associated with the project’s handling?
Indian authorities have actively targeted those who speak out against the Posco-India project with violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions. Local police have barricaded villages, occupied schools, levelled thousands of fabricated criminal charges against individuals opposing the project, and refused to protect individuals from consistent attacks by private actors allegedly motivated by the interests of the company and the state. As a result of these abuses, and for the past eight years, entire communities in the project-affected area have been living under siege and suffered clear violations of their rights to security of person and freedom of movement, as well as their rights to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention, and from discrimination—particularly on the basis of political or other opinion. Living under siege has also affected a host of economic and social rights, including villagers’ rights to work, health, education and food. Finally, should the project move forward as planned, displaced communities face a serious risk of impoverishment, which in turn would undermine a range of human rights and their ability to live a life of dignity.
Can developing countries like India move forward without sacrificing people’s concerns?
The pursuit of foreign investment cannot come at the cost of human rights. Development and human rights must be mutually reinforcing. India has systematically failed to live up to each and every one of these standards.
Why did your study fail to make an impact on the ground?
The story of the Posco-India project is far from over. Those who stand to be forcibly displaced by the project continue to mobilise peacefully and democratically to protect their lands and livelihoods, and to defend their human rights.