Some people, it seems, are more loyal than the king.
Sangram Mohapatra, a land officer with state-run Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO), has kicked up a storm and drawn widespread condemnation for taking law into his hand during Odisha’s land acquisition drive for Korean steel maker Posco’s $12 billion (Rs 54,000 crore) plant in Gobindpur village of Jagasinghpur district, about 200 kilometres east of Bhubaneswar.
In the video-grabs obtained by HT, Mohapatra was seen mercilessly beating villagers opposing Posco’s plant with a long stick on February 3 (Sunday), when the district administration resumed its land acquisition in the wee hours of morning, in full view of district official and police. In his enthusiasm to clear protesters comprising children, women and old people, the officer, dressed in a red sweater over a white shirt, was also seen dragging small children from the demonstration site and moving from one place to another carrying the stick .
Mohapatra has been deputed by IDCO to coordinate with district administration for the land acquisition work.
“By beating peaceful protesters without having police or magistrate power, the IDCO officer has proved himself to be an agent of Posco,” said Prasant Paikray, spokesperson, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which is spearheading the movement against Posco’s 12 million tonne per annum green field project.
Odisha Congress president Niranjan Patnaik said: “We condemn the highhandedness shown by the officer. We will keep a close watch on the action taken by the state government against the officer.”
State BJP chief Jual Oram said if the government officials took law into their hands to crush peaceful protests, it would be disastrous for the democracy. “Strong action should be taken against officers and police taking law into their hands,” Oram said.
Odisha health minister and senior Biju Janata Dal leader Damodar Rout, who represents the district in the assembly, also condemned Mohapatra’s action. “This is condemnable,” he said.
Jagatsinghpur collector SK Mallick admitted of hearing allegations against Mohapatra. “I have brought it to the knowledge of the government. I have also talked to superintendent of police Satyabrata Bhoi and appropriate action will be taken in this regard,” Mallick old the Hindustan Times.
Posco, world’s fourth largest steel producer, signed an MoU with the Odisha government in June 2005 to set up its project, touted as India’s single larges foreign direct investment. Initially, 4004 acres of land, out of which 3000 forestland, were needed for the project. But recently it was reduced to 2700 acres.
The state government has already acquired about 2000 acres for Posco, but suspended land acquisition in June 2011 in the face of stiff opposition from villagers. More than 20,000 people of eight villages under Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga pram panchayats have been opposing the plan under the leadership of PPSS.
Bhubaneswar: Footage of a man protesting at the Posco steel plant being beaten by a government land officer in Odisha has triggered outrage with activists and politicians demanding strong action against the culprits.
Sangram Mohapatra, a land officer with the state-run Orissa Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO), was reportedly seen beating a protestor mercilessly with a stick on Sunday near Jagatsinghpur district’s Gobindpur village, about 100 km from Bhubaneswar.
The incident allegedly occurred in the presence of local administrative officials and policemen when hundreds of men, women and children were peacefully protesting against the South Korean company’s Rs. 52,000-crore steel project. Footage of the incident was broadcast on a local television channel.
The footage also showed the officer dressed casually in a red sweater over a white shirt moving from one place to another and dragging some children across the protest site.
District Superintendent of Police Satyabrata Bhoi said an investigation has been ordered into the incident. “Appropriate action would be taken in the matter,” Mr Bhoi told IANS.
“He has no police or magistrate power. In what capacity did he attack the man and children who were protesting peacefully,” asked Prashant Paikray, spokesperson of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been spearheading the movement against the project.
“He acted as an agent of the company. People will answer to this act in due course of time,” Mr Paikray told IANS, adding that PPSS would move the state’s human rights commission against the officer.
Jual Oram, state unit president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also condemned the incident and demanded action against the officer and policemen who allegedly attacked the people during the protest.
“India is a democratic country where everybody has the right to protest. If the government goes on quelling such peaceful demonstrations, it will have to face the consequences,” he said.
“Even police do not have the power to attack such protestors. It there is an unlawful assembly, police can take steps to disperse the mob. The gathering at the site where the incident occurred was not unlawful,” human rights activist Biswapriya Kanungo said. “It was a (case of) state repression on the citizen,” he pointed out.
Sunday’s incident was also condemned by ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member and Health Minister Damodar Rout, who represents the region in the state assembly and said officers like Mr Mohapatra were responsible for creating disturbance in the area. “This act is condemnable.”
Posco’s proposed 12 million tonnes per annum steel plant – the largest foreign investment in India – is to come up on about 4,000 acres of land near the port town of Paradip. IDCO is acquiring land for the project.
The local administration claimed it earlier acquired about 2,000 acres of land in the region in 2011. It needs to acquire another 700 acres – mostly in Gobindpur area – for the start of the project. However, some villagers have been opposing the acquisition.