The POSCO iron ore mining project in the state of Orissa is the largest foreign investment project ever undertaken in India. POSCO is a South Korean firm, although after the 1998 Asian financial crisis, the majority of its shares were more or less forcibly bought by US investors, particularly Citigroup.
According to this Sanhati editorial, the $12 billion project needs some 4,000 acres of land. Unfortunately, some pesky tribals live on some of this land. Technically, they are only entitled to 10% of that particular land, and the government is free to sell the rest. Activists say that if you go down and have a look, tribals live on quite a lot more of it and under the Forest Dwellers Act 2006, you cannot shunt them off without their agreement. The locals are also rather miffed about the way mining projects in the area have already polluted their drinking water and the fact that the completed project would require 70,000,000,000 litres of water per year to run, which is quite a lot.
That’s clearly all horrible and any right-thinking individual would surely consider such a project tantamount to stabbing their mother to death with a wooden spoon.
But then you read about the same project in Business Week and you get a pretty different picture. From the economists’ point of view, POSCO’s mining project is vital to South Korea’s development and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is rightly going to ensure that a few unspecified “local problems” don’t get in the way of progress. And look what Warren Buffet thinks of POSCO – lovely, cuddly old Warren Buffet who so generously gives all his money to poor people:
Last week, Buffett gave his seal of approval for Posco, calling it “a wonderful company.” Buffett said after meeting Posco’s chief Chung on Jan. 18 that he wished he had purchased more Posco shares when they were cheaper in the past year.
I’m sounding pretty facetious, but I think this small example is quite a neat demonstration of how incredibly divergent discourses emerge when the number of variables grows beyond easy comprehension. POSCO pays the wages of a huge number of people and sits in competition with a large number of other mining companies who would like to do the same thing they are. They are answerable to investors all over the world, who are themselves answerable to a huge number of clients. Throw in the importance of such projects to the economies of South Korea and India, and those countries’ geostrategic importance to the world as a result of their position in dangerous neighbourhoods, and the picture starts to look a lot more complicated than a few tribal people’s rights. That is the structural violence of the system – a system which naturally creates its own legitimising language of development and progress through which individuals are then blinded to the many of the consequences of their actions.
How do you break out of that system? Well, the tribals and the activists have done a pretty good job so far, having delayed the Posco project for over a decade, so I guess supporting them is a pretty good place to start.