The administration in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district on Sunday resumed land acquisition for Korean steel maker Posco’s $12 billion (Rs 54,000 crore) plant amidst shimmering tension following the death of three anti-Posco activists due to a crude bomb explosion on Saturday.
The explosion in Patana village under the Dhinkia gram panchayat, the nerve centre of anti-Posco movement about 200 km east of Bhubaneswar, seriously injured another activist who is battling for life in a hospital.
The land acquisition process in neighbouring Gobindpur village, the proposed site for the 12 million tonne per annum green field project, wrapped up for the day in two hours after dismantling of just three betel vines.
“The process was peaceful and will continue tomorrow,” Jagatsinhgpur collector SK Mallick said.
In the meanwhile, the police started its investigation into the death of the activists and sent the bodies for post mortem. Jagatsinghpur superintendent of police Satyabrata Bhoi maintained his stand that they died while making bombs.
“We have recovered gunpowder and other materials from the scene of the blast,” he said.
On the other hand, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been spearheading the movement against the steel plant for the past six years, rubbished the police claims.
“Since the beginning, our agitation has been peaceful. After pro-Posco goons’ bomb attack on our people, the state government now wants to put the blame on us and weaken our movement,” said PPSS chief Abhay Sahoo.
The victims’ family members echoed Sahoo’s allegations.
Posco signed an MoU with the Odisha government in June 2005 to set up the project, touted as India’s biggest single largest foreign direct investment.
People of eight villages under Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga gram panchayats have been opposing the plant under the leadership of PPSS.
A total of 2700 acres are needed for the plant. The state government had already acquired about 2000 acres for Posco, but suspended land acquisition in June 2011 in the face of stiff resistance from villagers.
On February 3, the administration had resumed land acquisition but halted it four days later due to fierce protests after acquiring about 250 acres and demolishing 55 betel vines.
As uneasy calm prevailed after the death of three anti-POSCO project activists in a bomb explosion in Patna village on Saturday, the Jagatsinghpur district administration resumed acquiring land on Sunday for the South Korean major’s mega steel plant. The betel vines of three persons were torn down at Gobindpur without any resistance — many residents had fled the villages fearing police action — and Rs. 10.45 lakh was paid in compensation. “We have destroyed three vineyards. Land acquisition will be carried out on a bigger scale in the coming days,” Superintendent of Police Satyabrata Bhoi said.
The administration said one person was also seriously injured in Saturday’s explosion.
But the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, which has been spearheading the movement against land acquisition, has urged all political parties and rights organisations to carry out an independent investigation, charging the police with spreading a false propaganda over the deaths. “The police claim that three persons lost their lives while preparing bombs is rubbish. In the past eight years of our struggle, we have never taken up arms. In fact, bombs were hurled at the three activists, who were in hiding for fear of police action. As heavy police deployment was made prior to the resumption of land acquisition, project supporters got excited and executed the fatal attack,” PPSS president Abhaya Sahoo said.
“The incident will not stop us from carrying forward our movement. We will intensify it, though the government machinery and hired criminals are being used to pin us down,” he said.
As many as 12 police platoons were deployed in the area. Last month, the Odisha government destroyed 20 betel vineyards. Observers said the government was under tremendous pressure to complete the acquisition of 2,700 acres for the POSCO India Private Limited to set up the eight million tonne-a-year plant, which was announced seven years ago.