Land acquisition for Posco on, police excess alleged

Paradip: The land acquisition for the Rs 52,000-crore Posco steel project, which resumed amidst tight security at Gobindpur village in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district, continued peacefully on Monday, the state government said. Chief Secretary BK Patnaik claimed people were offering their land and betel vines on their own. “There is no violence during the land acquisition. The district administration of Jagatsinghpur and the local police have been instructed to undertake land acquisition work peacefully,” he said.

“Land acquisition for the steel project is continuing in a smooth and peaceful manner. Betel-vine plantations of only those who are willing are being demolished,” District Collector SK Mallick said. A section of the villagers, however, claimed they were beaten up by the police.

“At least 22 persons including 10 women and five children sustained injuries due to police excess,” Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) president Abhay Sahu alleged. On-the-spot payment was being made to villagers for their betel-vines, Mallick said adding over 30 betel-vine plantations have been dismantled since Sunday and Rs 32 lakh paid by cheque.

The fresh operation, which began on Sunday, was to acquire an additional 700 acre for Posco’s mega project with 2,000 acre having been acquired earlier, Additional District Magistrate Surjit Das said. Land acquisition had been halted for more than a year following violence during construction of a coastal road near the proposed project site in December, 2011.

Dija Bhoi, an 80-year-old Dalit, who earns his livelihood by working in betel vines, said he was beaten up by the police. “The police beat me up when I protested their entry to our village. If they demolish betel vines, who will give job to an old man like me”? Bhoi said.

Besides Bhoi, Basanti Dalai, Sakhi Bardhan and 13-year-old Jagannath Das were allegedly beaten up by the police. They were sitting on a dharna on Sunday when police used baton to chase them away. “Though a small group of policemen is present at the village, over 200 armed personnel were strategically kept in the nearby jungle. We demand their shifting from there,” said Manorama Khuntia, a leader of the PPSS women wing.

Making his party’s stand clear on the Posco issue, state Congress President Niranjan Patnaik said “we are not opposed to the project. But the manner in which police excess is going on is shocking. How can an elected government allow police to attack women and children?”

Activists of CPI(ML), DSO and some other civil rights groups staged demonstrations in the state capital protesting alleged police excess at Gobindpur village. SK Mallick, however, claimed the land acquisition was being undertaken with consent and cooperation of the local people. “A handful of people are opposed to the project”, he said.

Paradip MLA and Health Minister Damodar Rout also claimed there was no pressure on the people to part with their land. “Those who oppose the project are outsiders and they have nothing to lose in the process,” Rout said.

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Bhubaneswar/ Jagatsinghpur/New Delhi, Feb. 4 : Irate protesters from the Left Front agitated against the Odisha Government on Monday against its drive to remove local tribals from the site of the proposed POSCO steel plant project.

Odisha Police forcibly evicted the tribals demonstrating against the proposed steel plant near Jagatsinghpur on Sunday.

In response, supporters of the left parties organised a protest rally in Bhubaneswar city today.

“Yesterday, the administration used the batons to beat women, children and even the land acquisition officer used batons to beat the people, that is why it is a violation of all the laws, it is inhuman and also violation of human rights,” said Praful Sawant, a social activist.

“We have organised this protest against the pressure from the state government, to remove any trace of POSCO and to nullify any MoU signed between the two. We are determined to end this arrangement,” said Shivaram, one of the protestors.

But as the government pushes for highways, power plants, steel mills and ports, it has come across stiff resistance from poor farmers who are worried about their future after their lands are taken over for these projects.

“Illegally, brutally they are acquiring land, it’s not fair. We have opposed this project from the beginning, we have been demanding to shift the project but the government is not listening. It is very sad,” said Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik.

The administration, however maintained that the government was only acquiring lands of those who had signed the consent form and were giving them appropriate compensation.

“They are willing to leave their land, take compensation and to allow POSCO project to come. When the administration is acquiring the land there, they are not forcefully acquiring the land. After taking consent of the land owners or encroachers, they are taking compensation voluntarily and they are giving their land,” said Odisha Health Minister Damodar Raut.

Environmental groups have complained that POSCO’s plant would destroy large areas of forest in the poor state and would take toll on the indigenous tribes in the area.

Meanwhile, Biju Janata Dal (BJP) leader Jay Panda came out in defence of the Odisha Government on the issue.

“The Odisha Government has been extremely patient; the project is now seven years, so no force has been employed. It has taken this long to convince people in a very open manner and only those people who are convinced and who have agreed and who have signed, only their land is being acquired. Nobody has the right to stop that,” he told the media in New Delhi.

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Farmers given compensation for 10 betel vineyards destroyed

The land acquisition for Posco’s planned steel mill continued at Gobindpur in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district for the second day on Monday, even as hundreds of villagers resisted the process peacefully.

Government officials stopped the process after paying the farmers compensation for 10 betel vineyards destroyed on Sunday. Twenty platoons of armed policemen were deployed to guard the site and seal the entry points to the area.

“The acquisition work was carried out peacefully, and the process will continue on Tuesday,” Collector S. K. Mallick said. He was happy that officials held discussions with the residents on their demands.

Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti leader Abhay Sahu has condemned the deployment of the armed policemen and demanded their immediate withdrawal. “We will continue our resistance in a peaceful manner.”

Meanwhile, leaders of the Congress, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Forward Bloc, the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal joined a rally the Samiti organised on the outskirts of Gobindpur to oppose the land acquisition. The project, touted as India’s biggest single foreign direct investment, has been pending since 2005. Samiti spokesperson Prashant Paikray charged the State government and the district administration with adopting a divide-and-rule policy to acquire more land.

Tension continued as officials camped in the area, and the Samiti staged the dharna.

The administration demolished 15 betel vineyards on Sunday, despite severe criticism from various quarters over the entry of the police into the area much before sunrise.

About 2,000 acres had been acquired earlier, and the current exercise was aimed at getting 700 acres more to meet the South Korean steelmaker’s need for 2,700 acres to establish the eight million-tonnes-per-annum plant.

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Amidst political controversies, land acquisition for the Rs. 52,000 crore Posco steel project resumed with tight security at Gobindpur village in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district.

While the administration claims that the land acquisition process is peaceful, the anti-Posco brigade led by Posco Pratirodh Sangarm Samiti (PPSS) accused the police and district administration of highhandedness and atrocities. “Land acquisition for the steel project is continuing in a smooth and peaceful manner. Betel-vine plantations of only those who are willing are being demolished,” district collector Satya Kumar Mallick said.

Two teams were engaged in the exercise, monitored by senior officials, including the collector Mr Mallick and superintendent of police Satyabrata Bhoi. “People are voluntarily cooperating in eviction of betel-vine plantations on government lands. Today, we cleared at least 10 betel farms,” the SP said.

He said compensation to the tune of `45 lakh were paid since the eviction drive resumed on Sunday morning. Countering the district administration’s claim of peaceful land acquisition, the PPSS alleged that the protesting people, including women and children, were hounded by gun-totting police men in an early morning swoop on Sunday. “We have been opposing the plant in a democratic process. Police has entered the village and beaten the farmers, ladies and children mercilessly,” PPSS president Abhaya Sahoo said.

[Sources — IBNLive, NewKerala.com, The Hindu, The Asian Age]


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