State unlikely to grab land in a hurry again

Paradip: With the state government abruptly staying land acquisition for Posco, the fate of the over Rs 51,000 crore 12 mtpa capacity South Korean steel plant appears uncertain. In the tense cauldron being fired by political and civil society leaders pouring their support for agitating villagers and 2013 being an election year, speculation is rife that the BJD government is unlikely to burn its fingers by restarting the land acquisition process in the near future.

Ever since the state government signed the MoU with Posco in 2005, the project site, a sprawling sylvan surrounding in the backyard of this port town, has remained the epicenter of one of post-independent India’s longest anti-industry agitation, running now for the eighth year in a row. The row between protesting villagers unwilling to part with their lands and the state has not been without intermittent bouts of violence.

Posco needs 4,004 acres of land for its plant and port using the river mouth Jatadhari. The state government, which promised lands spread over Dhinkia, Gadakujang and Nuagaon panchayats to the company and took money for it, has since strained every nerve to bring the protesters to their knees. The agitation has so far taken two lives amid reports of the ruling BJD engaging muscle power to harass villagers, setting fire to their houses and police firing. All entry roads to the site are guarded by armed police forces, while the local police station is literally busy with a singular agenda of registering cases against the villagers and arresting as many of them as possible. Nearly 1,500 women and men have so far been implicated in criminal cases. But nothing tangible has happened yet, much to the government’s discomfiture.

When this correspondent visited the area on Monday, the villagers were found preparing for the wedding of one Prabhas Gochhayat, who hails from Paradip. The bridegroom, however, did not dare to undertake a journey to the bride’s house located in the agitation zone fearing arrest, as he was implicated in criminal cases for participating in anti-Posco protests. Hence, the villagers decided to start the wedding procession from Dhinkia village, the bastion of the anti-Posco agitation.

“Our people have not seen the outside world for many years. They are under constant fear of being picked up by waiting policemen, a strategy the government has adopted to break our morale,” said Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS) leader Abhaya Sahoo, who alone faces 54 cases and has since been arrested twice. The government three years back dismissed Dhinkia sarapanch, Sishir Mohapatra, a front ranking leader in the anti-Posco movement, and did not hold elections particularly for that post in 2012.

Noted social activist B D Sharma, who visited the area Monday, stood by the protesting villagers. He described attempts to forcibly snatch lands for the Posco project as unconstitutional. “The state’s policy must be directed to ensure adequate means of livelihood, ownership and control of material resources for the community,” Sharma said quoting Article 39 of the Constitution.

[Source – Times of India]

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