Chinks in opposition might hasten Posco land acquisition

When the anti-Posco brigade celebrated the seventh anniversary of their agitation against the mega steel venture of the South Korean behemoth at Dhinkia near Paradip in Odisha last week, the noise they made against the project was drowned by the murmurs of a split in their ranks.

After fighting against the project for the last seven years, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) seems to be disintegrating, with many of its supporters unhappy with the present functioning of the leadership.

Sensing an opportunity in this development, the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corp of Odisha (Idco), the state-owned land acquisition agency, is readying plans to resume land acquisition for the 12-million-tonne steel project, halted a year ago due to stiff resistance by the project opponents.

TIMELINE

  • June 22, 2005: Posco, Odisha govt ink MoU
  • August 2005: Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti formed to oppose the project
  • August 8, 2008: SC upholds ‘in principle’ clearance for use of forest land but directed the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) to proceed ‘in accordance with law’
  • December 29, 2009: The environment ministry grants final clearance for diversion of forest land
  • July 28, 2010: MoEF constitutes panel to oversee status of implementation of Forest Rights Act
  • August 6, 2010: MoEF issues ‘stop work’ order, based on the panel’s report
  • January 31, 2011: MoEF gives conditional clearance
  • March, 2011: State govt decided to exclude acquisition of private land in Dhinkia
  • May 2, 2011: MoEF lifts the ‘stop work’ order
  • May 18, 2011: Land acquisition restarts at project site, before being stopped due to protests
  • March 30, 2012: National Green Tribunal suspends the environment clearance

 

The chink in PPSS was particularly conspicuous when anti-Posco activists from Gobindpur village, where the acquisition of residual land is crucial for start of work on the steel mill, remained absent during the protest meeting on June 22, marking the seventh anniversary of Posco’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Odisha government and beginning of the agitation.

Dissidents have formed a separate committee to decide their next course of action. “We have lost faith in the present PPSS leadership, as it is too dictatorial and not willing to take people into confidence in decision making,” says Babuli Rout, a senior PPSS leader and the architect of the newly-formed Central Core Committee.

The formation of the new group further fragments the public opinion in the Posco site, which was earlier divided on the lines of pro and anti-steel project positions. The United Action Committee (UAC), comprising project supporters, was dominant in two panchayats, Nuagaon and Gada Kujang, while PPSS was dominant in the Dhinkia panchayat.

The differences in PPSS are expected to have a positive impact on the fate of the project. Out of 4,004 acres required by Posco, the government already has clear possession of 2,000 acres.

The company has said it can start work for the first two phases of the project, comprising four-million-tonne each, if it is provided additional 700 acres, mostly belonging to Gobindpur village. Last year, the administration had discontinued its drive to acquire land for the project when it hit a wall of protest on the boundary of Gobindpur.

Meanwhile, Idco is chalking out plans to resume the land acquisition process. The strategy is based on establishing contact with the people, redressing their grievances and implementing various developmental programmes to win over the villagers’ support.

The list of developmental work lined up for the eight villages affected by the project and the surrounding areas include construction of concrete roads, provision of drinking water, upgrade of schools, assistance to self-help groups and panchayats, etc. The package is worth about Rs 250 crore, most of which will be borne by the steel company.

“The proposal has been given to Posco. Once they agree to it, steps would be initiated to implement them and acquire additional 700 acres at Gobindpur to enable the company start the project work,” said an official. He hoped the things would take a definite shape within the next couple of weeks, and the work on the project could start around October this year.

Simultaneously, the government is finalising the draft of a tripartite agreement with Posco and its Indian subsidiary Posco India, which will replace the MoU, whose term has expired in June 2010.

But, apart from land acquisition and the tripartite agreement, the South Korean company faces a host of problems, beyond the purview of the state. These include suspension of its environment clearance by the Green Tribunal and cases pending in the Supreme Court over grant of a prospecting licence for a captive mine. The issues have to be resolved before the state can see the of $ 12 billion investment, billed as the highest single project foreign direct investment in the country.

When asked about the delay in land acquisition, an official involved in the process reasoned: “The message from the chief minister is not to use force for land acquisition. Given the extent of agitation and size of land required, the process will definitely be time-consuming and tedious without the use of police.”

[Source — Business Standard]


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