Odisha villagers steel themselves for war

BHUBANESWAR: Widespread resentment is growing against the Orissa government for rushing armed police forces to suppress agitating villagers and acquiring their land for the Posco project, facing a host of litigations. The government renewed the land acquisition process for the South Korean steel giant on Sunday even though the National Green Tribunal had earlier suspended the final environmental clearance (EC) given to it by the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF).

Hundreds of cops swooped down on Gobindapur village early on Sunday morning and blocked the area from all sides as officials started pulling down betel vines, one of the major sources of livelihood for the local tribals.

The government had earlier conducted a similar exercise and claimed to have taken possession of over 2,000 acres of land from the villagers. The latest move is to acquire nearly 700 acres of land in the village, dotted with more than 500 betel vines and over one lakh trees. “We have razed 22 betel vines in the last two days and paid Rs 45 lakh to their owners. Felling of trees will start after the betel vines are cleared from the area,” Jagatsinghpur district collector S K Mallik told TOI.

Though officials claimed they faced no resistance while entering the area, anti-Posco protesters narrated a different story. “If the government is happy making such claims, let it be. Our agitation will continue. We will not allow Posco to happen here. There are many larger issues involved with the project, but our immediate concern is protection of our livelihood,” said Abhaya Sahoo, president of Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS), that has been spearheading the agitation against the project since the company signed a pact with the state government in 2005.

Being the country’s largest Foreign Direct Investment ( FDI), the over Rs 51,000 crore project was initially hyped to change the face of Odisha. But the euphoria soon started melting when people started questioning the project’s potential to generate jobs for the people and the net benefit the country will get after sacrificing land, water and doling out concessions to the foreign company. The government’s seeming reluctance to discuss the issues involving the project in the assembly only strengthened the public suspicion, while villagers and different political parties launched agitations, the series of police crackdown by the government notwithstanding.

The project ran into further trouble when the matter was raised before the National Green Tribunal, which in its order in March 2012 directed the MoEF to make a ‘fresh review of the project’. It further said that the ‘MoEF shall consider optimizing the total land requirement for 4 mtpa steel plant proportionately instead of allotting entire land required for 12 mtpa steel plant which is an uncertain contingency’. The Tribunal also directed the MoEF to see that in large projects like the Posco the environment impact assessment (EIA) is done for the ‘full capacity and EC granted on this basis’.

“We are amazed at the state government’s conduct in launching police crackdown on the innocent villagers to snatch away their land when the project as on date does not have an EC to begin work,” said social activist Prafulla Samantra, who had taken the issue to the National Green Tribunal.

“We suspect the government is acting under pressure for the benefit of the foreign private company and is in a hurry to begin works before the new land acquisition bill is taken up by the Parliament, which mandates consent of nearly 70% people in a village before acquiring their land for any project,” Samantra said. “The project is also facing court cases relating to allotment of iron ore mines and water as well.”


Bhubaneswar: There was a fresh standoff between villagers and police in Odisha’s Posco site today after the cops allegedly tried to enter the Gobindpur village.

A scuffle took place today when a group of local school children, who were staging a rally demanding the removal of police force from the area, came face to face with the police force which was on a flag-march. Some of the school children have been reportedly injured.

The leader of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Abhay Sahu is on an indefinite hunger strike since this morning demanding withdrawal of police force from the village.

Today is the third day of the land acquisition operation launched by the Jagatsinghpur district administration with the help of 15 platoons of police. After being halted for more than a year, land acquisition for the showpiece Rs. 52,000-crore steel plant in Odisha resumed on February 4.

Yesterday anti-Posco protesters had indulged in stone throwing, damaging at least five vehicles of the police and administration. Sources said, police sealed all the entry points to Gobindapur.

They also sealed the Gobindapur-Dhinkia road. Protesters from nearby areas like Ersama, Kujang and Jagatsinghpur were gathering in order to chalk out their strategy.

[Sources — Times of India, NDTV]

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