Over 2,000 school going children, college students and women joined a sit-in at Balitikira of Gobindpur gram panchayat organised by Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), a CPI-backed body opposing the South Korean steel major since it inked a MoU with the state government in 2005.
The Odisha government has been planning acquisition of 700 acres in Gobindpur gram panchayat area to begin the Posco project work. “We have already arranged 2000 acres of land for the purpose. Rest 700 acres will be acquired from Gobindpur area,” said Jagatsinghpur collector S K Mallick.
He cautioned PPSS against using children as shield in the agitation. “This is illegal. The government will take action as per the law,” he said.
Rejecting allegation that force was used for the land acquisition, he said farmers were ready to give their land, but for the opposition by a handful of agitators.
“We have people’s support,” Mallick claimed.
CPI MP Prabodh Panda from West Bengal launched the dharna and urged Naveen Patnaik government to withdraw force from the area.
“No government has been successful in taking farmers land forcibly. Nandigram and Singur incidents should be taken as instances,” Panda said.
Land acquisition work for the project had been kept on hold for nearly a year due to the agitation. Nearly six months ago the project ran afresh into rough weather due to environmental non-clearance by the Green Tribunal.
Meanwhile, PPSS president Abhay Sahu rejected the allegation of using children as shield.
“We allow boys and girls to join their parents in agitation. The children came on their own and took front row of the agitation,” he argued.
Alleging that administration had deployed 10 platoons (300 personnel) of armed force to enter Gobindpur to acquire land, Sahu said children would first oppose them.
PPSS had also engaged children as shield when state administration deployed police to acquire land in 2011, but withdrew them after the forces returned to their barracks.
National Children Commission, National Commission for Women and other bodies had then visited the site and requested anti-displacement leaders not to use children in the stir.
While there was a debate over use of children in the agitation, the little ones, however, have their own argument. “If our parents lose livelihood, who will give us protection,” said 13-year-old Rosalin Patra of a Gobindpur School.
Many students from Dhinkia High School and Patana Primary School have ‘voluntarily’ joined the ‘do-or-die battle’ against POSCO project.
Sahu, however, admitted that children’s studies would be hit due to involvement in agitation.